The Office of National Statistics and Postcodes

Here’s a story from FreeOurData which is, quite frankly, incredible. The Office of National Statistics, in preparing for the next census, has found that the postcode databases offered by the Royal Mail and Ordnance Survey aren’t accurate enough for their purposes. Their solution: to build their own database. This is fair. The postcode database is not amazingly accurate, and ONS have different requirements anyway.

Unfortunately, Royal Mail and Ordnance Survey make good money from selling the postcode databases to other organisations. These datasets are very valuable: you’ve probably made use of them whenever you’ve put your postcode into a website. Royal Mail and Ordnance survey did not — apparently — like the idea of ONS making another postcode database with which they’d presumably have to compete. So, rather than take that nice dataset and do useful things with it — like giving it back to us taxpayers — the ONS have pledged to build the database, use it for the census, and then destroy it.

Postcode databases are almost a holy grail. Of all the datasets in the country, liberating the postcode database for free reuse would probably create more value than any other. The thought of spending £12m on a new, super-accurate postcode database and then destroying it is wasteful, a huge missed opportunity and to be frank, completely idiotic.

We implore you: don’t do it.