An influential group of MPs has blasted the Government for including the Postcode Address File (PAF) in the Royal Mail sell-off, claiming it was only added in to prop up the postal operator’s value.
The Public Administration Committee said PAF was a “national asset” that should have remained in state hands, with Committee chairman Bernard Jenkin believing the decision was a “mistake”.
He added: “Public access to public sector data must never be sold or given away again.
“This type of information, like Census information and many other datasets, is very expensive to collect and collate into useable form, but it also has huge potential value to the economy and society as a whole if it is kept as an open, public good.
“If the government does not take the opportunities offered, there is a risk in the UK that businesses with growth potential will be deterred by fees for data, and by legal and administrative barriers, while other countries are developing their data industrial base and stealing a lead over the UK.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “PAF was included in the sale of Royal Mail because it is an integral part of its operations, not to boost the price.”
The database contains more than 24 million separate address details, and analysts Deloitte had assessed the value of this information to consumers, businesses and the public sector at £1.8bn a year. It is also worth £26m in annual revenues for Royal Mail.
The pros and cons of access to PAF have been the subject of huge debate over the past 18 months. By including it in the sell-off, the Government ignored a recommendation by its own data tsar – Open Data User Group chair Heather Savory – who called for the file to be made available free of charge to all firms.
The plan also drew criticism from Internet “founder” Tim Berners Lee, who claimed the file represents a critical piece of “national information infrastructure.”
At the time, the demands were criticised by some sections of the DM industry, who feared PAF could lose its cache. They were also worried about how often it would be updated.
However, since then Royal Mail has caused uproar after it revealed proposals for a new pricing structure which some claimed would spread “pandemonium” in the DM sector. The postal operator has since revised its plans, much to the relief of both the DMA and the industry as a whole.
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