Royal Mail and the PAB chairman respond to Open Data report

Royal Mail responds to the Public Administration Select Committee report on Statistics and Open Data and points to further initiatives to help the spread of PAF usage. The PAB chairman identifies four priorities – raising awareness of innovations in PAF licensing, licence simplification, quality assurance on PAF data and examining the costs of PAF maintenance.

The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) reported on 11 March that:

“Some government datasets are of huge direct value to the economy. Ministers and the Royal Mail have made a number of promises about the continued accessibility to small businesses and others of the Postcode Address File (PAF). Evidence we have received casts doubt on the credibility of such assurances. The Postcode Address File (PAF) was included in the sale to boost the Royal Mail share price at flotation. This takes an immediate but narrow view of the value of such datasets. The PAF should have been retained as a public data set, as a national asset, available free to all, for the benefit of the public and for the widest benefit of the UK economy. Its disposal for a short-term gain will impede economic innovation and growth. This was an unacceptable and unnecessary consequence of privatisation, and is at odds with the Minister’s general argument that open data should not be “swallowed up […] by big global companies.”
The sale of the PAF with the Royal Mail was a mistake. The Government must never make a similar mistake. Public access to public sector data must never be sold or given away again.”

In response Royal Mail issued the following statement:

Royal Mail takes its responsibilities and obligations in relation to the Postcode Address File (PAF) very seriously. Royal Mail recognises the importance that PAF plays as a vital dataset supporting and sustaining key parts of the UK economy and we are committed to its widespread availability at a fair price. Royal Mail (on 13 February 2014) published its revised proposals to simplify the PAF licence following an initial consultation last summer. The proposal, which we expect to finalise very soon, aims to widen take up, encourage greater use of PAF, and meet the current and future needs of users, solutions providers and developers of PAF based products in today’s marketplace.

The revised licence proposals follow new measures implemented last year, in collaboration with Government, to provide free access to PAF for micro businesses and small independent charities, encouraging innovation and growth. In addition, Royal Mail is working with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Scottish Government on the introduction of a centrally paid Public Sector Licence (PSL) to cover use of the Postcode Address File (PAF). The Public Sector License seeks to simplify PAF licensing arrangements and we believe that this will encourage wider use of accurate address and postcode information in the delivery of vital public services. Once an agreement is finalised, all eligible public sector organisations in England, Scotland and Wales will be able to take advantage of the terms for use of PAF under the PSL.

The Chairman of the Postcode Advisory Board (PAB) has commented:

“The Advisory Board recognises that the principal use of PAF is for the efficient delivery of mail and that this is vital to the well-being of the UK economy. Detailed and high quality data are at the heart of the value of the PAF file. Nothing must be done that jeopardises that quality. Over a period of 40 years the postcode has gone from an alien imposition to a crucial underpinning of efficiency that ranges wider than its core purpose. Thus, the Board led the campaign for a free PAF Developer Licence to encourage innovative use of the PAF file and supported Government initiatives to make PAF available free of charge at the point of use for the public sector, small independent charities and micro businesses. Take up of the Developer Licence has been strong but more needs to be done to raise awareness of these innovative possibilities and to simplify licence conditions for all PAF users. Over the coming months the PAB will also concentrate on licence simplification, quality assurance for PAF data and reviewing the cost of PAF maintenance.”