October 05, 2009 | Jim Killock

Royal Mail: closing job search over data dispute while sacking workers

Sometimes the reasons why we need more open data regimes slap you in the face. This is one of those occassions, as the Royal Mail, who are looking to slim down their workforce of 121,000 postal workers, sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Ernest Marples, the campaign providing post code data to new online services

One of the services that has closed is Job Centre Pro Plus, which allowed users to find jobs near them through a post code search. It is particularly galling that Royal Mail are simultaneously trying to make people redundant, and closing a service which could help their ex-workers get a new job.

Other services provided made planning applications near you easier to find, and identified political leaflets sent near you. All were developed in the knowledge that they could be closed, but had proved very useful even in the few months they were running. Planning Alerts had gained 6,000 users.

These services would have to pay around £4000 a year to use post code data legally; which raises Royal Mail around £1.3m a year. It is easy to see that large numbers of small business ideas and not for profit services are being blocked by these license fees – it is in effect a tax on innovation.

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Comments (11)

  1. Iain Parkes:
    Oct 05, 2009 at 04:35 PM

    The postal service in this country is dying because it is staffed by jobsworths and union members! Free the data and restore freedom to our postcodes!

  2. CiaranG:
    Oct 06, 2009 at 09:30 AM

    Maybe we should all stop using postcodes on our letters until this data is opened up?

  3. Denis Howe:
    Oct 06, 2009 at 12:40 PM

    How ridiculous that something as useful as postcodes, that should belong to the country, i.e. you and me, belongs to a business. That's what government is for. Free the postcodes!

  4. Anonymous:
    Oct 06, 2009 at 07:17 PM

    Whose going to pay the costs to update this database if its free??? The taxpayer??? The PAF is constantly updated with around 4,000 postcodes added each month and 2,000 existing postcodes terminated

    "Maybe we should all stop using postcodes on our letters until this data is opened up?" - because RM maintains databases like this and fork out thousands to other bodies for similar databases of residents information, they could still deliver your letter.

    "It's a pity people have to suffer because of these services"- - just cause you dont want to have to pay for the work someone else has done your suffering!!!

  5. Anonymous:
    Oct 06, 2009 at 08:06 PM

    The postcode data in question DOES belong to the UK public. Royal Mail acts as custodian of this data on our behalf and has developed an innovative way to make money from it. Money that helps fund the postal service in this country.

    Without this revenue stream, there would be even more redundant postal workers, unless the government made up the shortfall through higher taxation. So small businesses are hit either way.

    And if paying a licence fee of £4000 per annum is enough to bankrupt your business, perhaps it was never a good business idea in the first place?

  6. Colin Woodford:
    Oct 07, 2009 at 06:22 AM

    If Royal Mail insist on asserting their intellectual property rights regarding post codes then perhaps we should all comply.
    They will then soon discover that their value is generated by us the user.

  7. Vince:
    Oct 07, 2009 at 09:40 AM

    The mistake was made when Royal mail was privatised.
    The ownership and maintenance should has been taken out of the responsibility of the newly privatised entity, and passed over to the public sector management instead.

  8. Anonymous:
    Oct 07, 2009 at 06:20 PM

    Answer: it hasn't been! The government lost its bottle when it realised how unpopular such a move was amongst its own ranks - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8123530.stm

    Of course I might be misinformed, in which case can someone post a link as to when it happened?

  9. Iain Henderson:
    Oct 09, 2009 at 01:51 PM

    Of course PAF needs to be opened up, but this is a complex argument that's going to be resolved by understanding the roles and arguments of the various stakeholders and navigating a way through that.

    Bleating on to Royal Mail with petitions and PR does our argument a dis-service.

  10. Simon Fernley:
    Nov 11, 2009 at 01:22 PM

    @Anonymous #8 - maybe with free access to the database more smaller businesses will be able to send small packages from their on-line shops thus generating more work for postal workers and more profit for RM - less redundancy, less pressure on the benefits system.

    £4000 + VAT (which is just the cost of the data) for my current client wouldn't bankrupt him but would make his on-line sales unprofitable and thus he wouldn't be employing me. He has, for the last twelve years helped a constant stream of unemployed (and quite often damaged) techies back to work - into real, solid jobs! His profits in no way measure up to the service his small business does for this country.

    @Anonymous #9
    quote "The taxpayer???"

    And why not? They do in the USA which has a much larger database (updated in real-time) - they even provide free programming APIs and libraries to make the job of integrating them into your product much easier. Why do you think they do it this way? I'll answer for you - it's because they recognise that the true value of the data far outstrips the cost of providing it.

    quote "The PAF is constantly updated with around 4,000 postcodes added each month and 2,000 existing postcodes terminated"

    You make it sound as if this is a lot of work, wake up! we're in the computer age, most (if not all) of the work involved is done automatically with programmes that could be written in any number of freely available languages on the back of a postage stamp that could process 6000 transactions in much (much) less than a second. For £4000 + VAT per year I'd expect a hosted service that is updated in real-time and a freely available API so that I could access the data easily AND send me a birthday card every year!. Instead I'd get a text file (or a bunch of text files) which I'd have to convert to my database format, write an API to access the data, then I would have to fork out for a suitable server to host it all on!

    Back to Anonymous #8...

    quote "innovative way to make money from it"

    Innovative? What exactly is innovative about holding data to ransom? What is innovative about stifling progress? What is innovative about throwing your weight and privileged position behind stopping a useful service such as Earnest Marple? What is innovative about stopping potential customers from using your other services?

    What is innovative is the ReCAPTCHA below the comment box that I will now fill-in - why is that innovative? By filling it in you are helping digitise books, newspapers and radio shows - costs you nothing, it's value - incalculable!

  11. James Goi Jr:
    Sep 22, 2010 at 02:11 PM

    Very nice sharing of information and it will helpful to my work
    Thank you