The Ordnance Survey building in Southampton. Photo: OSMapping CC-BY-NC-2.0

The Ordnance Survey building in Southampton. Photo: OSMapping CC-BY-NC-2.0

The coalition Government said it has no plans to privatise Britain’s national mapping agency.

Ordnance Survey will shortly become a government-owned company, prompting fears that the organisation is being lined up to be sold off.

The Southampton-based agency is currently run as a trading fund, which means it must be self-financing. Business and innovation minister Matthew Hancock announced the change of status last month, saying it would enable Ordnance Survey to operate more flexibly and efficiently.

Ian Lavery Labour MP for the Northumberland Wansbeck constituency, asked the minister whether the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills planned a full or part privatisation of Ordnance Survey, whose maps are used extensively by outdoor enthusiasts, both in traditional paper form and in digital formats.

The union Prospect, which represents more than 500 OS workers, also sought pledges that the organisation was not about to be privatised.

Negotiator Ben Middleton said: “Ordnance Survey directors have assured Prospect that this move is not intended to be a precursor to possible future privatisation.”

In a written House of Commons answer to Mr Lavery, Mr Hancock said: “There are no plans to privatise Ordnance Survey.

“The change to a government-owned company is operational in nature, designed to improve the performance of the organisation.”

When the change in status was announced last month, Ordnance Survey said: “Becoming a GovCo will not change the ownership of Ordnance Survey; it will remain 100 per cent in public ownership.

“The Ordnance Survey board will remain accountable to the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.”

But the Public and Commercial Services Union said it believed the change to a GovCo was an indication OS was being prepared for privatisation.

PCS official Tony Conway said: “We are worried that the creation of the GovCo is the first step to full or partial privatisation. Ordnance Survey should retain its role as our national mapping service, working for the national interest, not for profit.”

Ordnance Survey was established in 1791, and became a trading fund in April 1999. In common with other government trading funds such as the Met Office, Companies House and Land Registry, it currently has to cover its costs by selling data and other products.

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