Value for Money Examination  13; Ordnance Survey   Summary


The Ordnance Survey (OS) is the State mapping agency with responsibility for the provision of maps and other data which are required by users of geographic information. The environment m the OS operates has changed considerably since the late 1970s. In particular, advances in computer related technologies have had a major impact on surveying and mapping techniques.

The study focused on

  • the quality of service provided by the OS to its customers
  • the financial performance of the OS
  • the age profile of the map data
  • the impact of changes to the operating environment of the OS.

Customer Service

The study included a survey of a sample of institutional and corporate customers of the OS which was carried out with the assistance of a firm of market research consultants. The results of the survey were generally positive, with customers expressing satisfaction with the quality of the product being provided. However, a number of areas of concern were noted including out-of-date mapping data, speed of delivery of the required product, lack of customer feedback, complaint handling and difficulties in making contact with the OS. It is recommended that the OS gives these matters its immediate attention.

Financial Performance

Guidelines issued by the Department of Finance in 1989 set financial targets for the OS which were designed to progressively increase the level of self-financing. Specific targets were set in respect of the urban mapping programme, the small scale mapping senes and specialist contract work. It was not possible during the study to evaluate the extent to which the individual targets are being met because of limitations in the management information system used by the OS. However, a comparison of expenditure and receipts over the years 1989 to 1995 indicates that the overall rate of self-financing has progressively improved.

The OS should consider the potential for increasing revenue through better marketing of its products and services and through stricter enforcement of royalty and licence fee collection.

It is recommended that the OS should consider the development of a comprehensive management information system which would provide

  • accurate costing information
  • facilities for pricing mapping data
  • a facility to assess whether targets are being achieved
  • a basis for identifying and deciding on strategic options.

Under existing arrangements the OS does not produce separate annual financial accounts. Its expenditure and receipts are included in a combined annual Appropriation Account with the Valuation Office. The OS should consider, in conjunction with the Department of Finance, the production of annual financial accounts relating to its activities including a trading account, profit and loss account and balance sheet.

Age Profile of Map Data

The usefulness of mapping information is very dependent on the extent to which the information being provided to users is up-to-date. An analysis of the urban and rural mapping databases showed that

  • The urban mapping programme is currently being revised on a three-year cycle.
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  • The rural mapping programme is considerably out-of-date. Only 5% of maps in the series have been revised in the period since 1990; 31% were last revised in the period between 1950 and 1970 and the remaining 64% have not been revised since before 1950.

The absence of up-to-date rural mapping has the greatest impact in areas on the periphery of urban centres which have been subject to considerable housing and commercial development in recent years.

A recent example of the need for up-to-date rural mapping was the requirement by the Department of Agriculture for a database of land parcels in order to verify area aid claims from farmers. The Department of Agriculture has stated that the additional costs incurred in developing the database in the absence of up-to-date mapping was approximately ?1 .6m.

The OS is currently considering the use of a less detailed specification for rural mapping which would meet customers' requirements and which would accelerate the revision of the rural mapping programme.

Operating Environment

The introduction of computer-based mapping technologies has had a fundamental effect on surveying methods and on the mapping processes used by the OS. This has enabled the OS to produce a wider and more flexible range of products in different formats to suit customers needs.

Efficiency gains through the use of new technology have enabled the OS to gradually reduce staffing from about 400 in 1981 to a current level of 278. However, as a result of non-recruitment, there is a serious imbalance in the age structure of OS staff with approximately 75% of staff in the 36 to 50 age bracket.

A major change in the structure of the OS was the establishment of six regional offices on foot of a Government decision in 1990. 05 staff formerly employed in field work have been transferred into these offices, with consequent savings in travelling and subsistence costs. Nevertheless, the OS remains highly centralised; the regional offices do not provide services locally but act as off-site production centres. The OS has stated that there would be additional resource implications in expanding the role of the regional offices.

The Defence Forces have traditionally provided military personnel to the OS to carry out cartography duties on the same basis as their civilian counterparts. The military personnel remain under the control of the Defence Forces and this has created difficulties for the OS in planning and managing its mapping programmes. The Defence Forces Review carried out by the Efficiency Audit Group of the Department of the Taoiseach recommended the disengagement of military personnel from the OS and this matter is currently under discussion.