We love Ordnance Survey - and it's ours
If you've ever walked up a rainy mountain in the gathering dark, you were probably grateful for the classic pink and orange paper maps produced by Ordnance Survey (OS). Ordnance Survey has mapped every corner of our country, from Cornwall to Norfolk, from the Isle of Wight to the islands of Shetland.
Ordnance Survey began in 1791, when its maps were used to help defend the British coast from the French. In the industrial revolution it surveyed and mapped land to build Britain’s railways. Today, of course, it produces the iconic paper maps. But that’s not all - these world-famous maps now make up only 5% of its revenue. The rest involves ‘big data’, producing super accurate geographic information that is used by the government and businesses across the UK.
Ordnance Survey is a huge success in public ownership - but the government wants to introduce private sector capital into the organisation. Ordnance Survey is a national treasure that belongs to all of us, let's keep it that way.
Helping you find your way
Wherever you are in Britain, however rural or remote, Ordnance Survey has mapped your location. It makes 2 million maps a year and records 10,000 geographic updates a day.
They're not just paper maps either! Ordnance Survey has gone well and truly digital. Whenever you turn on a Sat Nav device or use an online search engine, you're making use of its digital map data, online route planning services and mobile apps.
'We learned that we had to adapt to survive, it's evolution. Survival of the fittest in a world of constant change...These are exciting times, and with an ever-changing landscape of technological innovation, we're looking forward to the future." Ordnance Survey video 'Finding a way'
Making money for us all
Ordnance Survey data underpins an estimated £100 billion of the UK economy and has saved the government tens of millions of pounds. In 2014-15 it paid £21 million in profit to the public purse.
Solving problems with big data
Ordnance Survey data helps local government with flood risk prevention and grit provision, and makes delivery services and bin collections more efficient. Its data helps to locate people and save lives in emergencies like natural disasters and disease epidemics. It is used to help plan events like the London 2012 Olympics. Public service mapping agreements mean the government can use OS data for free (whereas private sector involvement could create pressure to charge for data).
A public ownership success story
“Having 224 years of history gives us an amazing trade craft. Having spent almost £900 million on digitisation, going from calligraphy to being totally digital, we have learned a lot of lessons.” Andrew Loveless, Commercial Director, Ordnance Survey
Is the government going in the wrong direction?
Ordnance Survey was turned into a GovCo (a government-owned company) in early 2015. There are fears that this could be the beginning of a move towards privatisation. Royal Mail, BP and Rolls-Royce were all GovCos before they were privatised. The government said in November 2015 that it is looking to ‘develop options to bring private capital into the Ordnance Survey before 2020’. We don't know whether it's still planning to do this.