Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Selling UK postcode database with Royal Mail was a mistake, admit MPs

The government's choice to include Royal Mail's national database comprised of addresses within the company's privatisation has been blasted by a committee of Britain's House of Commons.
A report has been issued by the Public Accounts Committee, illustrating the access to data, in which it was said that the Postcode Address File, otherwise known as PAF, should have been saved as a public data set and considered as a "national asset, available free to all, for the benefit of the public and the widest benefit of the UK economy."

Evidence in its review showed uncertainty in both the government's and Royal Mail's assurances that the PAF will carry on to be made readily available to small businesses, said MPs. The Committee has said that removing the PAF, in a bid to improve Royal Mail's share price, would prevent economic modernisation and innovation, as well as growth, within the UK.

The MPs have admitted that "the sale of the PAF with the Royal Mail was a mistake." They went on to claim that "the Government must never make a similar mistake", and advised they were aware that "public access to public sector data must never be sold or given away again."

Royal Mail announced in July 2013 that its PAF would be available and accessible free for the use by independent, small businesses for one year. It has been said that MPs were informed by open data company, FlyingBinary, that the free year of access would be "no help". This was due to the amount of months it could take to reel in a product to market solely dependent on PAF data.

The Committee were informed by ministers that the PAF was an "integral part" of Royal Mail. "It is a fundamental operating asset on which the business depends. It is the Royal Mail that collects the data and makes sure it is up to date", commented Business Minister, Michael Fallon. Fallon also said: "Royal Mail incurs considerable costs in collecting and maintaining this data and keeping it up to date. It is only reasonable that they should be able to recover some of those costs from the companies that use this data."

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