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Open address register

This Freedom of Information request asks for documents and expenditure information in relation to the open address register project.

Request for information - Ref No: FOI19903

Request

Thank you for your email of 28 May 2019, requesting information from Ordnance Survey in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, as set out in the extract below:

In 2016, the Department of Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy, paid Ordnance Survey over £400,000 to investigate and report on options for an 'open address register' (in response to a statement by Chancellor Hammond.) 

This spending has been described in a FOI response that you can view here

BEIS has no record of any outputs from this research and scoping project. They say that the work was paused after the EU referendum in 2016 and then abolished altogether at the change of government in 2017.

I write to you now, in line with Freedom of Information legislation, to request from you: 

  • a) any output documents such as research papers, briefing documents, proposal documents and summary documents etc you may have produced as part of this open register project.
  • b) detailed breakdown of how the money provided by BEIS was spent in relation to this open register project.

Our response

I confirm that Ordnance Survey (OS) does hold the information that you have requested in part a) and part b) of your request. However, we are unable to comply with your request and provide a copy of the information, as we consider it to be exempt from disclosure under section 43(2) (prejudice to the commercial interests of any person) and, in the case of part a) of your request, also under section 41(1) (information provided in confidence) of the FOIA.

Taking each of your requests in turn, this is explained in further detail below: -

  • a) any output documents such as research papers, briefing documents, proposal documents and summary documents etc you may have produced as part of this open register project.

Section 43(2) (prejudice to the commercial interests of any person)

We consider that the release of the information held by OS would be likely to cause commercial prejudice to OS, Government and other third parties. The information contains:

  • detailed information in relation to OS’s methodology and research, which is commercially sensitive as it would be likely to be of commercial use to our competitors, thus damaging to OS’s ability to operate successfully in the commercial environment in which we operate; and
  • OS data similar to data which is released by OS data under licence, and thus could be used by OS’s competitors instead of our existing published data.

In addition, we have consulted the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for its view, and BEIS has confirmed, consistently with its previous response in relation to a similar request, that the information should be withheld on the grounds of commercial sensitivity given that the project is still under policy development.

OS recognises that there is always a general public interest in transparency. However, this must be balanced against the public interest in allowing OS and third parties to protect their commercial position. In this case, we note that disclosure of the information would (rather than would be likely to) cause the commercial prejudice against which this exemption aims to protect, and that such prejudice would impact on both OS and BEIS. On balance, in this case, we are satisfied that there is a greater public interest in withholding the information under this exemption.

Section 41(1) Information provided in confidence

Under Section 41 of FOIA 2000, public authorities are not obliged to comply with any request for disclosure which would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by the person to whom a confidentiality obligation is owed.

In this case, the information itself is not otherwise accessible, and it is information which is of importance to OS, BEIS and other third-party contributors, and thus should not be treated as trivial. Second, the information is clearly protected by legally binding, written confidentiality obligations. Lastly, unauthorised disclosure of this information would be likely to have a detrimental effect on OS, BEIS and other third-party contributors.

This is an absolute exemption and therefore no public interest test is required to be undertaken.

  • b) detailed breakdown of how the money provided by BEIS was spent in relation to this open register project.

Section 43(2) (prejudice to the commercial interests of any person)

We consider the information which details the breakdown of how the money was spent to be exempt from disclosure under section 43(2) (prejudice to the commercial interests of any person). This information would provide our potential future customers with information regarding our internal pricing which would prejudice OS’s commercial position in terms of OS negotiating prices for work we carry out as a supplier. In addition, it would provide information to our competitors who would be able to use this information when competing with OS for future work.
Whilst OS recognises the general public interest in transparency, in this case we consider that this is outweighed by the harm which such disclosure would cause to OS’s commercial position.

Internal review

Your enquiry has been processed according to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000.  If you are unhappy with our response, you may request an internal review with our Internal Review Officer by contacting them, within two months of receipt of our final response to your Freedom of Information (FOI) request, as follows:

Internal Review Officer
Customer Service Centre
Ordnance Survey
Adanac Drive
Southampton
SO16 0AS

Contact us via our FoI form

Please include the reference number above. You may request an internal review where you believe Ordnance Survey has:

  • Failed to respond to your request within the time limits (normally 20 working days)
  • Failed to tell you whether or not we hold the information
  • Failed to provide the information you have requested
  • Failed to explain the reasons for refusing a request
  • Failed to correctly apply an exemption or exception

The Internal Review Officer will not have been involved in the original decision. They will conduct an independent internal review and will inform you of the outcome of the review normally within 20 working days, but exceptionally within 40 working days, in line with the Information Commissioner’s guidance.

The Internal Review Officer will either: uphold the original decision, provide an additional explanation of the exemption/s applied or release further information, if it is considered appropriate to do so.

Appeal to Information Commissioner›s Office (ICO)
If, following the outcome of the internal review you remain unhappy with our response, you may raise an appeal, within three months of receiving our response, with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Further information can be found on the ICO website (ico.org.uk) under ‘Report a concern’ or you may wish to call the ICO helpline on 0303 123 1113.