Open data chief says postcodes should be free

The UK’s postcode address database should be released for free use by private companies, the chief executive of the new Open Data Institute (ODI) has told CSW.


By Matt.Ross

15 Nov 2012

Speaking in an interview with CSW, Gavin Starks argued that the UK’s Postcode Address File (PAF) is “such a fundamental building block for pretty much every business that needs an address that it’s kind of crazy that we don’t have that as a properly open file.”

Since 2010, the Royal Mail has allowed free access to basic postcode data, but it charges for commercial use of the detailed file. However, Starks – whose institute has been created to stimulate economic growth around the reuse of data – told CSW that releasing datasets free of charge can generate more economic and social benefits than retaining copyright and charging for use. “There’s nothing wrong with charging for data,” he said. “The question is what mechanism provides the greatest value.”

Where a dataset is only valuable to a few businesses, he argued, public bodies should charge for access. But with the PAF, “how many people, how many organisations want access to that? Well, it’s in the tens of thousands.” The question, he said, is not “how do we maintain an existing not “how do we maintain an existing revenue stream, but how do we transform that into potentially a greater revenue stream with a different technological solution that engages with 10 or 100 or 1000 more stakeholders.”

Starks said that the “Danish government’s analysis” was that free publication of its own PAF produced growth “from a 4x return on investment to a 17x return on investment.”

The ODI chief also pledged to help government bodies identify and prepare data for publication, and asked civil servants to name public datasets that they’d like to see published.

CSW asked Royal Mail for a comment, but it failed to respond.

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