Improvement Service aims to extend Spatial Hub

Organisation is working on a hybrid licensing model to support access point for Scottish local government spatial data

Scotland’s Improvement Service is looking towards extending the availability of data from its Spatial Hub beyond members of the One Scotland Mapping agreement.

Map of Scotland with local authority boundariesIain McKay, head of spatial information at the support agency for local government in Scotland, outlined the plans, saying it will involve a hybrid licensing model for the re-use of data.

The Improvement Service is working on the licensing agreements, and it is likely that public authorities will be able to use the datasets free of charge under the EU Inspire licence, as will anybody doing so for non-commercial reasons. Commercial operators, meanwhile, will be subject to a subscription model, potentially working with a group of partners.

McKay told UKAuthority that the organisation is assessing the market for different datasets and expects some, notably those covering planning applications, to be more lucrative than others.

Recovering costs

“We’re not trying to make a fortune out of this, just recover our costs, and the more people who use it the more we will be able to spread those costs,” he said. “We cannot make it all open data because of need to raise revenue, but it will be published under EU Inspire so it’s freely available for personal use and information.”

This comes in addition to the earlier agreement – applicable since the soft launch of the Spatial Hub in the summer of last year – for data to be available to Scotland’s local authorities for internal use under an extension of the One Scotland Mapping Agreement. This is the collective agreement between Ordnance Survey and the Scottish Government for access to the agency’s digital maps.

The Spatial Hub has been set up to provide a single point of access to data from all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities in a consistent format. It is aimed at making it much easier to get at spatial datasets, which have often been scattered across departments in the councils so that staff often do not know what data is available and where it sits.

McKay said the hub is not yet fully functioning but that the development is moving steadily and there has been considerable interest in its potential. So far 15 of the 70 datasets identified in a 2014 audit have been uploaded to the site.

“The business benefits are for anyone who currently uses data sourced from local authorities, such as local government itself, utilities, commercial bodies,” he said.

“At the moment if they require access to a particular dataset they have to find the person, write to them, get permission to pass on the data, and the council has to make sure of the corporate licensing because it is generally derived from Ordnance Survey products. All this has to be repeated 32 times.

“Our offering is that we will take on the grunt work because we are better placed than anyone else to do so. We’re owned by local government and can provide a single point of access.”

Data assurance

An important element of this is that the Improvement Service takes on the quality assurance with the data, using a standard formal agreement with each of the councils that makes clear its responsibilities in ensuring it is available in standard formats, and those of the councils in submitting it correctly.

McKay said there is still work to do in this area, and that it will vary for different datasets that are updated at different intervals. For example, those on local development plans are updated just once every five years; others, such as on planning applications, are changing all the time.

“It’s evolving,” he said. “Some data sources are excellent, others not so good. Initially the data will be patchy, but we are evolving the specification of a management plan for each dataset that we will develop with representatives of the councils.”

While there is still some way to go in the development of the hub, McKay said it has the potential to provide a space in which councils manage their spatial data for their own purposes and re-use by others. This would be made easier by the fact that it is built on open source software.

Taking it to its conclusion, we think eventually people will move to maintaining datasets there,” he said. “This would generate huge savings for local government.”

A blogpost by Iain McKay on the development of the Spatial Hub is available here.

Image by macroflight, CC BY-2.0 through flickr