Postcode database: reply to Geoffrey Cox MP

Geoffrey Cox MP
Torridge and West Devon

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Dear Geoffrey Cox,

Thank you for your letter of 28 October in reply to my email about the postcode database. I am grateful for your speedy response.

Your letter raises a number of points which I feel need to be addressed.

As far as I am aware, this issue is not before courts. Legal action by Royal Mail has forced the developers – ErnestMarples.com – to disable their service.

I am not suggesting placing restrictions upon Royal Mail. The issue here is releasing data which is of public interest. In this case, the developers wish to use the data for solely non-profit purposes with benefits for all citizens.

Any data held by or on behalf of public bodies should be treated as a public, not a commercial, asset. This is the case in the United States and other countries.

In the UK, you may be aware of the Cabinet Office initiative to make public data public. The Digital Engagement blog has further details:
http://blogs.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/digitalengagement/.

A number of local authorities – such as Lichfield DC – are also going down this road.

The government has asked Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, to advise on the open data issue. I am encouraged that the Conservative party has also recognised the need for better digital engagement. In this respect, the appointment of MySociety’s Tom Steinberg as an advisor, though seen as controversial by some, is a positive step.

On the question of the postcode database, I do not see why Royal Mail’s overall profitability should determine treatment of public data, especially where it is being used on a non-profit basis and for public benefit.

You comment on the use of early day motions (EDMs). As a former civil servant who used to brief ministers on replying to EDMs, I am aware of the volume of motions that are tabled before the House of Commons. Whilst some EDMs may be viewed as frivolous, in many cases this is the only way to raise awareness of important local or national issues. What would you propose in place of EDMs?

As to the administration cost, again from my experience, I am sure this pales into insignificance compared with the costs of correspondence between MPs and government departments or answering parliamentary questions.

I hope you can support open access to public data, particularly the postcode database, irrespective of signing an EDM.

I would prefer any replies by email as this saves paper and taxpayers money.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McClymont

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