By Chris Rumbles
The UK government has come under fire after a Westminster committee brandished its decision to incorporate a national database of postal addresses into the Royal Mail flotation as a ‘mistake’.
The Postcode Address File (PAF), which includes all 1.8 million verified UK postal addresses, was described by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) as a ‘national asset’ since the public have an inherent right to data as certified in Freedom of Information.
In the PASC report the claim is made that the government’s decision to include the PAF in the privatisation of Royal Mail was motivated by a desire to achieve a higher share price. However, a UK government spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the decision was taken not to boost share prices but because the PAF was an integral aspect of Royal Mail’s operations.
Chair of the committee and Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex Bernard Jenkin said: “Public access to public sector data must never be sold or given away again. This type of information, like census information and many other data sets, is very expensive to collect and collate into useable form, but it also has huge potential value to the economy and society as a whole if it is kept as an open, public good.”
“There is much to be gained from open data, but the Government’s direction of travel is not clear,” Mr Jenkin added.
Public data needed to be treated with a ‘presumption of openness’ by the government according to the report so that it could empower citizens, increase government accountability and improve public services as well as the economy.
Royal Mail was privatised in October 2013 by the UK government who said the move was necessary for the group to compete with private mailing companies.
The initial share price set by the government was 330p a share but the market price immediately rose and has remained high since, standing at a current rate of 572p.
SNP spokesperson for postal services Mike Weir MP said the fact that 78% of Scottish MPs voted against the Postal Services Bill being passed into law was telling:
“The privatisation of Royal Mail was a deeply flawed Westminster decision – opposed by the vast majority of Scottish MPs – which threatens to have particularly harmful consequences for Scotland, where so many of our rural communities and so much of our rural economy rely on our existing Royal Mail service.
“It is clear that the only way for Scotland to have the postal service people want and deserve is with a Yes vote in September. With independence, the Scottish Government will bring Royal Mail back into public ownership where it belongs.”
Labour has said it would not provide a pledge to re-nationalise Royal Mail though Labour-controlled Inverclyde Council passed a motion late last year supporting re-nationalisation.