Freesteel Blog » Barely credible management of the national address register

Barely credible management of the national address register

Monday, November 14th, 2011 at 11:49 am Written by:

My attention has been drawn to a 22 March 2010 Parliamentary publication, London Regional Committee – London’s population and the 2011 Census

From Chapter 3, Preparations for the 2011 Census in London:

The National Address Register

87. We are encouraged by the development of a national address register for the 2011 Census. Such a register is vital for a successful Census in London.

91. We understand that the address register will not be maintained in its present form after 2011, despite the substantial time and effort which has gone into establishing and updating it. Shaun Flanagan of the Cabinet Office told us that when ONS negotiated the contract with the Royal Mail, Ordnance Survey and the Local Government Information House to provide data for the register, a condition of the agreement was that the register would not be re-used, but that any improvements to the data would be fed back to the three providers.

92. The Chair of the UK Statistics Authority has already written to Ministers to make the case for the national register to be maintained beyond 2011. The Minister for London told us that negotiations on the future use of the register were ongoing: “there is no dispute about the importance and benefits of resolving this.” That view was echoed by Keith Dugmore of the Demographics User Group, who described it as a “golden opportunity to produce a definitive national address register and to keep it going”. We were nevertheless disheartened to receive no clear answer from the Government on the issue of lead responsibility for negotiating an agreement.

93. An accurate and well-maintained national address register is an invaluable tool for the 2011 Census, and will be vital for any future exercises to quantify London’s population. We find it barely credible that the address register developed for the 2011 Census at substantial effort and expense is to be abandoned following the Census for reasons connected to the ownership of the intellectual property.

94. We concur with the UK Statistics Authority in recommending that the address register prepared for the 2011 Census be maintained as a public resource. We recommend that the Government urgently seek to resolve any outstanding issues with the maintenance of the register after April 2011, and to provide sufficient resources for its continued maintenance and development.

Further context from the Examination of witnesses from 8 February 2010:

Q78 Karen Buck MP: To return to the issue of the address register, what confidence do you have in the integrity of the address register—you have already referred to this in your opening remarks—and what proposals have you made on the basis of the variances and the errors that I know you have already found? Can you run through them, quickly?

Councillor Tim McNally (Executive Member for Resources and London Borough of Southwark): We have little confidence in this area at the moment. Between now and Census day, we will add another 2,000 properties in Southwark and we send off near-daily additions to the address register. What we do not get are the anomalies sent back to us and that would be really helpful. For things such as the national fraud initiative, we send off our data. It is all compared and collated, and we get the anomalies back and we deal with them. In this case, with the national address register, we are not getting the data back and we really need it.

Buck MP: So it’s not confirming those variations.

Councillor McNally: No, we send it to them, it compares it to the Post Office and so on, but it does not then send it back to us. All we have had is a tentative, “Oh we might be able to send it back to you” from ONS.

Duncan Whitfield (Finance Director, London Borough of Southwark): I would add that intellectual property has been mooted as the reason for not being able to feed that information back to us. That would be a really helpful bone to crack, I think.

Damian Highwood (Analysis Manger, Westminster City Council): I echo what Duncan said about the problem. Not having access to the full list means that checking the anomalies that we have been given, as local authorities, is almost impossible, because you do not know where it fits in with a full list of addresses that the ONS has.

Westminster has 6,000 anomalies in its address list, which is the largest of any authority in the country, and that is causing us enormous problems. So we have no confidence that the address list will be robust, unless we can have sight of the full list and then we will work very hard to get rid of all those anomalies before Census day.

Buck MP: Just paint us a picture of what those 6,000 anomalies are. Are they somewhere that can be geographically mapped? Are they tenure specific? What do we really know about them?

Highwood: We’ve mapped them and they are all over the city—everywhere. We haven’t found a relationship between tenure. Obviously, with Westminster—and all inner London—you have very complex addresses. They are going to be flats, apartments, subdivided flats, with different names for flats—As and Bs and one to six. We are completely unable to rectify those without seeing the full list.

Buck MP: And you have asked. This is an ongoing conversation with you and ONS to have access?

Highwood: It’s the same issue. ONS cannot release the full list because the intellectual property rights of the individual address list reside with Ordnance Survey and the Post Office.

Buck MP: But they haven’t come up with any idea on how to respect the intellectual property list while improving—

Highwood: They have mentioned that in June or July they may be able to release something, but they are in negotiations with the original address owners. By that point, if you have 6,000 addresses to match, it becomes a very arduous piece of work in a short span of time.

Later that day with further witnesses:

Q118 Jeremy Corbyn MP: The final question from me is are you satisfied with the adequacy of arrangements for the Census address register? From everything you have said, and everything that’s been said, I suggest you’re not, but I would like to get something on the record as to what your views are.

Eileen Howes (Statistician, Greater London Authority): We are not directly involved with the GLA in the address register, but we have welcomed the efforts that have gone into trying to improve it. I think Damian mentioned earlier that Westminster had 6,000 addresses to check. The next highest that I know of is Camden, which has 4,000 to check, but felt that was manageable. They were things like flats 1 and 2, or flats A and B, and things like that. Some turned out to be communal establishments. We haven’t got a London-wide view of the extent of this, but we have all welcomed the efforts that have gone into it. In addition, we are concerned about the fact that the intellectual property rights arguments mean that as things stand, the £12 million and all this effort will be just left and not utilised by anybody in the future.

Q119 Corbyn MP: Who should it be utilised by?

Howes: It should be utilised by all the owners—the Post Office with its address file, Ordnance Survey and local authorities with their address lists. What they need to do is get their heads together and sort out the differences between them. As it is, local authorities have lists of anomalies that they’re expected to resolve. They then have to send them back and that’s it. They do not get the information back to improve their own registers.

John Hollis (Demographic Consultant): The only information that will come back is that which is found by ONS actually in the field for the Census. That will be their property, which they’re prepared to share with all the providers of address lists. You might be aware that Sir Michael Scholar, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, has written to appropriate Ministers to try to get heads knocked together so that the issue of a one-off Census address list is nonsense, and it can be carried on and roll on to be a comprehensive, UK list that all can sign up to. We will not have those problems in the future, when it is likely to be more important to have address lists for Censuses and big surveys post-2011. We may not get another conventional Census like the one we are expecting to have next year. It could be something more on the basis of a register-led survey to confirm what the register tells you to do, which will be wonderful if it happens but needs a really good address list to run it.

And from 22 February 2010:

Andy Slaughter MP: …If [the database is] going to be so good and it’s something that’s singularly lacking, why don’t you preserve it and pass it on to local authorities and others who could use it effectively?

Glen Watson (Census Director): I would love to. I would love to be in a position to do so, but I am not, because of the intellectual property rights of the different address suppliers. What we are doing is pushing that as far as we can. For example, any new addresses we find in our Census field check, which takes place this year, we will give freely back to Royal Mail, Ordnance Survey and local authorities, and we’ll continue the conversation with the address suppliers to try to find ways around the IPR limitations. I can’t breach the IPRs of Ordnance Survey or Royal Mail.

Slaughter MP: That does sound rather ludicrous, if you don’t mind my saying so—not necessarily of you, but jointly. These are all public bodies of one kind or another. The idea that this work should go into something which is clearly very useful and then be abandoned or fractured in that way—are you not talking to Government about whether there can be consensus on holding that for mutual benefit?

Guy Goodwin (Director of Population, Health and Regional Analysis, Office for National Statistics): Sir Michael Scholar, the UK Statistics Authority head, made that point. From a population estimates point of view and looking further forward beyond the next Census, it would be hugely valuable, to have a single definitive address list, particularly if you’re looking at making better use of administrative sources and so on, as many local authorities, including London ones, want to do. Sir Michael has written to Government reinforcing the point that he would like to see a business case—a proper look at the business case, the pros and cons—and a decision on whether it is worth investing in one single definitive address list and getting around some of the IPR issues, which may have a cost attached to them. We are doing what we can in pushing that. Looking ahead, it is one of the things I would have on my wish list of things that could really help population estimates in future.

And from 24 February 2010 where the Minister is clueless — which is not surprising as she has a lot of other actually more important things to be getting on with, which is why a system that won’t shift until this single time-limited individual personally engages with it is designed for permanent inaction:

Q207 Andrew Slaughter MP: Can I ask you specifically about the address register? Several people have commented to us in positive terms about the fact that there will be what should be the most authoritative address database the country has ever seen, because it’s drawn from local government, the Ordnance Survey and the Post Office. I think it’s come close to home with us, because we all have experience of problems in dealing with difficulties and inconsistencies there. Why is the Government not trying to resolve the intellectual property issues, so that that database, which a lot of effort is going into creating, can be used after the Census?

Tessa Jowell (Rt Hon. Tessa Jowell MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Minister for London): I think the Government are trying to resolve the intellectual property issues.

Shaun Flanagan (Economic and Domestic Affairs Secretariat, Cabinet Office): On the creation of the national address register, as the Minister said, the Census is done independently of the Government. ONS received their money to carry out the Census, and it was up to them, using their world-class professional expertise on how to do it. This time, they decided to produce an address register and send out the forms, as opposed to hand delivering them, as in 2001. As I understand it, they looked at all the different registers available. None of them was sufficiently high-quality to meet their needs, so they embarked on this exercise of producing a comprehensive register from three different databases, supplemented by different information. All three of those databases have commercial value and are sold to make millions of pounds each year. As I understand it, when ONS negotiated that contract, the only way in which the contract could be negotiated was that it wouldn’t be used for any other purpose than carrying out the Census and improvements being fed back to the three providers. That, as I understand it, is the basis on which they were allowed to have access to those databases.

Q208 Slaughter MP: But if it were to be any use, it would not only have to be available on agreed terms; it would have to be maintained, because, clearly, one of the issues is new properties, conversions and so on. London is particularly vulnerable to that issue. Things get out of date very quickly. Given the focus that there is now—whether one supports it or not—on identity cards and knowing who is who and where they are, the idea that you have the opportunity to have what I think most people would think is a fairly uncontroversial and basic database of what properties exist and where they are, should this not be a priority to try and negotiate? There must be a commercial basis on which something can be negotiated between what are essentially public bodies anyway. Are you saying it’s not your job to do that?

Jowell: No, and it’s not Shaun’s job to do that. It’s the ONS’s job to negotiate with the three data suppliers to reach resolution on this question of the ownership of intellectual property. Then, I think, there’s a second set of questions that you refer to, which is about the maintenance of the accuracy of the register. Again, that sits as a responsibility with ONS, but what we have to ensure is that local authorities are well and vigorously represented in that process, both making the case for maintenance, but also contributing to the maintenance and accuracy of the register. That’s why Barry Quirk’s role in London is so important, and there are other champions for every region around the country. If I can suggest, the way to see this is as a negotiation which is in process. There is no dispute about the importance and benefits of resolving this. As I said, if it would help the Committee, we’d be very happy to provide you with a further note on progress, or you might want to ask ONS, which would actually be more appropriate, to give you a note on the progress of the negotiation.

Q209 Slaughter MP: That goes beyond the terms of this inquiry. None the less, it would be useful if someone could report back to whatever body is here in the new Parliament; we don’t know whether the London Regional Select Committee will be here, because that will depend on whether Parliament decides to continue with one. However, this issue has implications for council tax, electoral administration and other matters of that kind. If it is agreeable to you, Chair, we should endeavour to monitor this almost as a side or separate issue to see whether the database negotiations can be concluded satisfactorily.

Flanagan: Just to add to that, work is under way already. Discussions are taking place between Ordnance Survey and local government on the information IdEA -— forgive me, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it stands for. They are discussing the information they collect and how it could be shared. You may be aware that Ordnance Survey is consulting on whether the information that it collects should be made freely available. A specific question in the consultation asks whether a national address register would be useful and should be made freely available. So there are things going on; the question is who should make a substantive business case that these measures are required and who should fund them.

Q210 Slaughter MP: But you say the responsibility for pursuing that lies with ONS?

Flanagan: I think ONS would dispute that.

Slaughter MP: That is the problem, isn’t it? Who is going to take responsibility for pursuing negotiations?

Jowell: ONS.

Slaughter MP: I thought Shaun just said that wasn’t the case.

Flanagan: Well, no, I’m not saying that it would; we can tell it that this is something that we would like to pursue. As I said, work is going on, and things will develop. Discussions are taking place, and there is the consultation, so things are going on.

Slaughter MP: They managed it with the Domesday Book, so it shouldn’t be beyond us.

Yeah, because in 1086 there wasn’t a class of Intellectual Property lawyers working within a corporate structure which found it could make real money out of inefficiency and maladministration of vital data components of public administration, combined with a weak and sold-out civil service that respected and defended their right to do so.

Final words go to the written evidence of the Royal Statistics society:

13. A particular need for the future is to ensure the maintenance of the address register. Unlike Scotland, this definitive register will not be available for any other purposes, not even within ONS, or be updated due to the three public bodies concerned (The Post Office, Ordnance Survey, and the Local Government Information House) each defending their own intellectual property. We deplore this failure of public bodies to co-operate for the public good. The Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar, and the Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, Dr Tony Wright, have both called for this situation to end and for a single, regularly-updated, address register to be created.

From Sir Michael Scholar’s letter:

And from Tony Wright’s letter:

One final lesson I’ve learnt from this blog post is it is vital that the Parliamentary parsing system be applied to Select Committee evidence, dammit!

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