UKHO privatisation – where is the value ?

The Free Our Data campaign this week asks “Will the government try to privatise the UK Hydrographic Office?” – Such a development I believe has been on the cards for some time and is a result to some extent of the continuing lack of focus or understanding of information as an asset.

You get the impression that the management of information is seen by government purely as a cost to endure rather than the potential benefit it would be, if government information was better managed and shared across .gov.uk.

In saying that, UKHO is actually more an aggregator of information rather than a producer, its value as an organisation comes from the systems and processes to carry out the complex task of rapidly bringing together global datasets produced by 100’s of other marine data collectors – quite a specialised field.

If this niche is seen as valuable enough to consider privatisation, then how much more interest can the treasury have in the other agencies which create information and therefore sit on more valuable assets ?

Written and submitted from the Apple Store, London, using its free 802.11 network.

7 comments

  1. Charles

    Even if UKHO is principally an aggregator (though I thought it did a fair amount of generating its own data..?) one has to wonder what the reaction in Parliament – which got all heated about Inspire’s potential effect on UKHO – would be to a full-scale privatisation, or even hiving off into a separate company (as happened with Qinetiq.. and look where that led)?

    It’s a mess, which as you say is down to not understanding the value of data. Perhaps they should be told about Nationwide being fined a million pounds for losing control of a laptop worth a couple of hundred. What was the valuable thing? The data.

    BTW some site called plazes.com is taking an age to do its bit on your page here.

  2. neville

    Hi Ed,

    Interesting argument but to be clear the UKHO is an originator and wholesaler of navigational chart content which is then retailed around the world by third parties (one of which it owns).

    It is one of a handful of major content generators and spends (I think) millions of pounds a year trying to market its services to the shipping industry.

    It’s undoubtedly a valuable asset (which is presumably why the government will be looking to flog it) but it doesn’t produce any data that’s available for free as far as I’m aware.

    Why should it, either as an MOD trading fund or a private company when its competitors are under no obligation to do so.

    I’m not apologising for more privatisation but I don’t see where this is going. Do you think we should own the data because the MoD is funded by our taxes? If so then I want a piece of my own warship too.

    Best regards
    Neville Smith

  3. Ed

    Hi Neville,

    I am not arguing for privatisation, or God forbid making data free – I would like to seen more interest from Government in better exploiting its information assets for the benefit of the citizen, or just more efficient government.

    As Charles and his campaign has pointed out in the past who in this current administration has responsibility for Government created information ?

  4. neville

    Hi Ed,

    It’s a fair cop, but will we get a data tsar? It might be better than nothing but I’m not enthusiastic.

    Plus, when it really comes down to it, most of the what the UKHO creates is ‘maritime maps’ that are of little use to citizens. I guess there’s a kind of Google Earth potential here and that could be a starting point of genuine value to yachties and environmental interests.

    I’d also just reinforce that if an IPO or private sale is on the cards, there must be some money around here somewhere surely?

    Good flight…

    Neville

  5. Charles Arthur

    Neville wrote
    >>
    I’m not apologising for more privatisation but I don’t see where this is going. Do you think we should own the data because the MoD is funded by our taxes? If so then I want a piece of my own warship too.
    >>

    Of course we should own the data if it’s funded by our taxes. If you paid a consultant to come and examine your company, would you expect to pay extra for the report they produced?

    We, the taxpayers, *do* own the warships. (Don’t give me any of your ‘Royal Navy’ rubbish – if the Windsors want to pay for the upkeep, they can do it out of the civil list, which btw comes from, yes, our taxes.) You can make a case that some information gathered by UKHO should be kept secret, for military use. But yes, there are plenty of citizens who sail yachts who would like to know that the salaries they’ve been taxed on, and the interests on the savings from the salaries that they’ve been taxed on, should be available to them.

    You don’t know what use people will find for the data until you put it out there. Same as the internet: what’s the use of putting my page up? Because it adds data, and you can mix it to create new information and knowledge.

    An IPO would be the stupidest and most money-grasping, short-term option. Here’s hoping against it.

  6. neville

    Well Charles, at least you’re not letting your politics get in the way of the issues ;->

    Data, as you say is nothing without users, but you don’t pick up on my point that unless you are in the Asia-Europe container trades you aren’t really going to have a lot of use for ENCs from the UKHO or anywhere else.

    You have some traffic to your website and that’s good but you aren’t (I assume) an aid to safe navigation.

    I wouldn’t begin to make the case for secrecy (I assume the Windsor’s Navy has its own pipe), merely that if it costs you x to produce a thing you should be able to charge me y to buy it, yachtie or not. That’s a mechanism that’s been in place for a while now.

    Call me from the dock gates at Portsmouth when you go down there and ask to be let onboard ‘your’ warship to inspect the bitts.

    PS – do you think this debate is being mirrored in France, Singapore, Japan or the US which also have HOs? I’d be interested to know.

  7. Charles Arthur

    >>
    I wouldn’t begin to make the case for secrecy (I assume the Windsor’s Navy has its own pipe), merely that if it costs you x to produce a thing you should be able to charge me y to buy it, yachtie or not. That’s a mechanism that’s been in place for a while now.
    >>

    That way lies madness. By your logic, it costs the Inland Revenue money to produce tax forms – therefore it should be able to charge you for them. It costs the IR money to run its website where you can file your tax returns – therefore it should be able to charge you for using it.

    The UKHO is owned – completely – by the government, which means the public. It has a money-go-round in which it “earns” (actually, charges) other parts of government, as well as non-government, for data that it collects. As the South African head of mapping told us, government charging other parts of government is just administrative waste.

    As to my politics, I’d generally think of myself as apolitical; like the Guardian, I’m not aligned with any political party, only various values one could probably typify as liberal. I don’t think keeping potentially useful data behind a ludicrous paywall makes sense. I hope it won’t shock you to know that I’m in favour of Freedom of Information too – and I’d submit that that has brought many benefits in the UK. I’d be interested to know of any real disbenefits, in fact.

    You think that people won’t have a use for ENCs from UKHO. I submit that you’d have to wait and see. Dismissing the potential interests of the wider public is just snobbery. Mashups might tell you a lot more than you’d expect.

    As to other countries, I don’t know. Certainly the French HO might be considering what it does in the light of Inspire.

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