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Ordnance Survey, other gov databases move to Biz dept

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Whitehall announced yesterday that it had shunted the Ordnance Survey, Met Office and Land Registry agencies over to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The OS office had previously operated under the Department for Communities and Local Government but has been shifted, along with the Met Office and Land Registry, as part of the Cabinet Office's plans to debut the so-called Public Data Corporation later this year.

BIS, whose Secretary of State is Lib Dem MP Vince Cable, isn't exactly considered a champion of the open data movement, so the fact that it has taken control of Blighty's mapping agency will come as a surprise to some.

In January this year, the government confirmed that data bodies would be squished into one organisation to make yet-to-be-disclosed datasets available to the public.

However, the government said at the time that it would only "make more data free at the point of use, where this is appropriate and consistent with ensuring value for taxpayers' money".

Earlier this month, the government promised to publish various datasets on the National Health Service, schools, criminal courts and transport online. But it failed to make any mention of the Public Data Corporation (PDC), a framework for which is expected to be announced in the autumn.

Answers to questions that include how many more agencies might fall under the PDC banner, what data will be published, how it will be made available and what the full licensing terms will be, won't be provided by the government until later this year.

Each agency issued statements to reassure customers and taxpayers that their quasi-independent status as individual trading funds wasn't under threat. Instead, they preferred to say that collaboration would improve.

Last year, Ordnance Survey staff moved into new purpose-built digs in Southampton. As this reporter noted at the time, the organisation began sharing a Gloucester-based data centre with the Land Registry – from which it leased the space – in October 2009.

And now that it has settled into its new office, it is possible that space could be shared with other government agencies, such as, for example, with some Land Registry or Met Office workers.

"The building is designed so we can expand or shrink, and there won't be a problem letting out a wing that can be self-contained," the Ordnance Survey's biz sales and support head John Kimmance said in December 2010.

A consultation period focusing on PDC data policy is expected to kick off at some point over the summer. ®

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