Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, June 28, 2007

UK govt position on access to public information

The UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has issued The Government Response to the Office of Fair Trading Study on removing access barriers to public sector information (June 2007).  Excerpt:

  1. ...The OFTís report concentrates on the commercial use of public sector information by customers.
  2. Public sector information holders (PSIHs) are usually the only source for much of this raw data, and although some make this available to businesses for free, others charge. A number of PSIHs also compete with businesses in turning the raw information into value-added products and services. This could enable PSIHs to restrict access to information provided solely by themselves.
  3. The OFT study found that raw information is not as easily available as it should be, licensing arrangements are restrictive, prices are not always linked to costs and PSIHs may be charging higher prices to competing businesses and giving them less attractive terms than their own value-added operations.
  4. The report has also found that...the full benefits of public sector information are not being realised. OFT has estimated that the market could increase from £400m to over £1billion annually.
  5. The Government acknowledges the estimated economic benefits highlighted in the OFT report. At the same time Government has to consider the costs, ensuring the on-going financial provision of the information currently collected, the fiscal cost and the costs to the bodies affected by the OFTís recommendations....
  6. The government welcomes the recommendations, and is able to accept the majority at this point....
  7. We are unable to accept all the recommendations at this time....

For those of us interested in OA to publicly-funded research, here's the key OFT recommendation and the government's reply:

OFT recommendation

9.22 We recommend that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) reviews the case for including documents held by government research establishments within the scope of the Re-use Directive.


As the OFT report notes, the Commissionís forthcoming review of the Re-use Directive provides an opportunity to review the coverage of public research organisations. We would be willing to participate in the Commissionís review, although we do not at present believe that a case has been made for extending the coverage of the Directive. Commercial operations of public research organisations are still relatively small scale. There is no evidence to suggest market distortions are occurring, but if such evidence emerges we would of course review the position.

The terms of the OFT report mention briefly the issue of data from public research organisations, and this paragraph contains the Governmentís response in relation to such organisations. In relation to this, the Government supports the policy with regard to dissemination of publicly funded research laid out in a Research Council UK position statement published in June 2006. The models and mechanisms for publication and access to research must be both efficient and cost-effective in the use of public funds. Public research organisations should be able, in handling any requests for data, to recover the full economic costs they incur, including collection, maintenance and delivery, to sustain the public sector investment in their research.... 

Comment.  The last paragraph is inconsistent.  The RCUK position statement endorses open access (indeed, mandatory open access).  The government cannot support that policy and call for cost-recovery access fees at the same time.