Privatising the UK postcode database would be a disaster

Transcript of my email to Francis Maude MP and Michael Fallon MP*:

I am writing to you as the Minister responsible for the sale of the Royal Mail business. It appears from the information provided in the public domain that this sale includes the Postcode Address File (PAF). This is a dangerous and flawed move both for strong democracy and for economic development. The PAF should remain under public ownership in the event of the Royal Mail being privatised. It should not be included in any sale.

The PAF is a core asset in the campaign for open government, stronger democracy and better public services. As I know you are a strong advocate of open government, shown by your own leadership of the Open Government Partnership, I’m sure you understand that key data such as this is a public resource and belongs to citizens.

I am surprised that the Government would consider it right to sell off the PAF.

Further, location-based services are at the heart of the mobile and social economy, increasingly the growth of mobile applications and the UK’s strong position in the sector relies on access to such geographical information. For the UK, the PAF is the core standard for location identification. It is inconceivable that this public asset should be held privately. Such privatisation will seriously impede on the ability of the UK tech sector to develop new applications cost effectively, negatively impacting on the UK’s global competitiveness and innovation economy. Again, this presents an overwhelming argument for it to be kept in the public domain and made available for free reuse as part of our national public infrastructure.

Many Internet companies need this data. It exists, and will exist as long as Royal Mail uses postcodes. Charging for it is just a tax on innovation and a break on new start ups. This is an opportunity to take the bold step of releasing detailed postcode data properly into the public domain. This will make it easier for every business and group that works with addresses to bring their services to market, will strengthen democracy and improve government transparency.

 * OK, the two letter’s were obviously slightly different so this is an edited version of the key points.

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