Guest blog: Know your place

28 May 2015, 2:44 pm

by Steve Brandwood, Head of Engagement, GeoPlace

What I’ve learnt from 17 years working with local government in the field of geography is that the majority of what the public sector does is linked to location. Geography is about much more than bearded teachers, limestone pavements and oxbow lakes.

Steve_BrandwoodAnd an address is not just somewhere you send mail. Locally, services such as collecting refuse, allocating school placements, planning and development, electoral management or providing social care are delivered to a point on the ground.

The wider public sector is the same. Whether you are DWP, DVLA, HMRC, an emergency service or an NHS body, your services are linked to a location, even if it’s not immediately obvious.

Local government has been at the forefront of a standards-based approach to creating street, land and property information for well over a decade. Conformance to the British Standard for addressing; BS7666, has improved data collation and data management, and ultimately the interoperability and use of data across local government services.

We have been working with local authorities to collect address and street data since 2001.  We collate this data into BS7666-compliant national datasets and give a Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) to each address and a Unique Street Reference Number (USRN) to streets. We make them available via Ordnance Survey to all public sector bodies and commercial markets.

Recently, in support of the local government transparency and government open data agendas, Ordnance Survey, GeoPlace and the Improvement Service in Scotland began enabling users to release Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) on a royalty-free and open basis.

Local authorities and other public bodies benefit from using this data and unique reference numbers as a common link between systems to together data and deliver services more efficiently. Our case studies on our website and on Ordnance Survey’s website demonstrate the resulting savings and service improvements.

I’ve seen an example recently where a number of local authorities got together to procure a joint waste collection service. They needed to bring together data from a number of different waste management systems with population data and planning information to provide bidders with a realistic view on the expected growth in collections over the contractual period.

Without the base data on properties and streets, and the ability to join that data together using the UPRN and USRN, the authorities would not have had the evidence available to provide anything more than an educated guess. It would have been much more difficult to know whether they were getting a good deal.

There simply isn’t enough money to deliver services in the way we traditionally have done. We need to be able to plan, commission, procure and partner with many other types of organisation to deliver public services.

But it’s not just about getting value for money – using the UPRN and USRN we have the ability to improve services too.

Data sharing and collaboration between authorities is the next hurdle for the sector as evidenced by recent reports such as the Policy Exchange ‘Small Pieces Loosely Joined’. As the previous Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said, “it’s all about information – how we create it, how we store it, how we protect it, how we share it and how we exploit it.”

It is now widely understood that demand management which sets out to map life journeys, not organisational boundaries, is vital in the improvement of public services. The focus is on understanding contact patterns and where interventions might work to reduce further contact to provide more effective services.

The key to understanding these patterns of contact, and to join the organisations that can help, is in the information and how it can be shared. Reference data on where people live, demographics and individual cases linked to properties will play a major role in planning and providing joined up services.

Clever exploitation of information will help local government and the wider public sector to thrive. Understanding geography – or put more simply, knowing your place – is vital in ensuring what public administration does is efficient and value for money.