Ordnance Survey is consolidating its position at the leading edge of the new information economy and is poised to return to profit, its Annual Report and Accounts to Parliament. The launch of three new layers of OS MasterMap, the latest generation of its most detailed digital data, and groundbreaking contracts with companies such as Hutchison 3G to provide maps and geographical information via the latest mobile phones are clear signs of progress, says Director General and Chief Executive Vanessa Lawrence. In addition, new partnership initiatives have been launched to stimulate companies and individuals to exploit innovative uses for Ordnance Survey data; a national agreement has been signed to encourage the use of data throughout central government to enhance public services; and nationwide coverage of Explorer maps for outdoor enthusiasts has been achieved.
Heavy investment is continuing in new technology and other initiatives to provide faster access to data, speedier updating, more versatile products and an even more responsive service to customers. A further £29.8 million has been invested in the past year in addition to the previous year’s record £35.3 million. Revenue from sales and licensing reached a record £93.9 million – up 8% on the previous year – despite most digital data prices being held and others reduced, and despite global events and general economic conditions impacting on orders from some partners and customers. Total turnover from operating activities was up by 5% to £108 million.
The operating loss for the year was £2.2 million (compared to the previous year’s £7.5 million), with current projections indicating a clear return to profit in the current year. The two years of deficit was a deliberate part of Ordnance Survey’s Business Plan to ensure money was available to fund the biggest investment programme in its history. When Ordnance Survey became a government-owned Trading Fund in 1999 it was charged with balancing its books over the following five years and producing a 9% return on capital employed. After four years, the agency is on target to achieve these objectives.
Further long-term savings in running costs will arise through the reduction of staff posts by 355 in the current year under a voluntary scheme allowing staff to leave or retire early. The entire £38.2 million cost of this – including longer-term pension payments to eligible staff – is being funded in a single year from Ordnance Survey’s reserves and appear in the accounts as an exceptional item. No government contribution has been sought or made towards these payments. Annual ongoing savings amounting to 20% of staff costs – around £11 million a year at current costs – will result from this programme. With the exception of the revenue, which while up 8%, was not as large an increase as originally hoped, all eight other government targets for the year were exceeded. These include surveying output, the updating cycles for various paper maps, efficiency savings in data collection and the production and distribution of products, the reduction of carbon emissions from Ordnance Survey’s Southampton headquarters and the number of visitors to Ordnance Survey’s web site.