Seanad Éireann - Volume 124 - 14 March, 1990
Adjournment Matter. - Ordnance Survey Staff.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: The item on the Adjournment is the need for the Minister for Finance to reverse the decision to withdraw field staff in the Ordnance Survey Office.
Professor Murphy Professor Murphy
Professor Murphy: It takes some adjustment to get down from those Olympian heights. I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this topic today. The topic I am drawing to the Ministers attention to tonight concerns a decision taken in the Ordnance Survey by the management there to withdraw a substantial section of the field staff employed in the Ordnance Survey Office. The position is that the field staff in toto number approximately 130. They are involved in collecting data for the Ordnance Survey and are employed in many parts of the country. These people have been working and living in rural communities for up to 25 years and because of this decision they must move themselves and their families to Dublin. Apparently this move has been made without any real consultation with the staff. More specifically, of approximately 90 field staff who are outside the Dublin area it is proposed to bring 40 of those back to Dublin over 12 months and eventually to bring the rest back.
The reason why this is being done is to  work on a new tourist map, on a scale of 1:50,000, about the necessity for which and the desirability of which there is no question. In fact, riding a favourite hobby horse of my own, I am very glad to see the 1:50,000 map being promoted because it concerns tourism and a new and desirable aspect of tourism — walking, hillside climbing and so on. There is no doubt about the desirability of the work being undertaken here. The point is that it is being done at the expense of an equally, if not more desirable, aspect of the work of the Ordnance Survey, namely, that there should be field staff throughout the country, that they should be there as regional staff rather than concentrated in headquarters. Also, what is a matter of concern is that this proposed work on the 1:50,000 map may very well be promoted at the expense of the very important work of revising and updating the 1:2,500 series of maps. The importance of these maps of course, from the point of view of county council, engineers, planners, the legal profession, valuers, the Land Registry, etc. is that these 1:2,500 maps, which show the country areas in great detail, are absolutely essential. They need to be brought up to date, they need major revision and the Ordnance Survey need major resources to deal with this.
We are talking here about conflicting interests with limited staff. As a measure of dealing with this problem the management of the Ordnance Survey have, as it were, concentrated on the 1:50,000 work and to that end have ordered staff back to Dublin. There is great discontent among the Ordnance Survey staff at this decision. Indeed, the Minister will be aware of the fact that their union, the UPTCS, have put forward in some detail a proposal for a regionalisation structure which would maintain staff in their present rural locations.
One of the points difficult to understand is why in this age of computerisation and high technology communication it should be necessary for such staff to be concentrated in headquarters, particularly as it is sociologically very important that such staff should remain in rural Ireland and small towns in Ireland where they have daily contacts with county councillors, local  officials and so on. It is vitally important from that point of view that these staff should be retained locally, that they should have these contacts locally. Surely the technology is such that this does not preclude them from doing the vitally important work on the maps from their regional areas.
The document submitted by the union, the UPTCS, goes into all this in considerable and, in my view, very convincing detail. They balance the likely costings involved in bringing staff into Dublin, providing accommodation for them and so on, against the savings that would be effected by encouraging a regional development where, for example, there would be many local offices available to them at a nominal rent instead of having to provide new and costly accommodation. The costings have been done and the arguments for setting up a regional structure seem to me to be conclusive. I suppose more staff are needed — that is one of the basic things — but I stress that one of the great principles of Government policy in the European community context is regionalisation and decentralisation. This is a vital and mainstream policy. But it does not seem it is being adhered to in this case if management are allowed to implement their decision.
Another cause of unease is, as I said already, that there has been little or no consultation — only dictation I understand — with the union about this move, which has such radical implications for their lives and careers and wider implications for the good health of local services. There is the general feeling that the Ordnance Survey are at odds in this matter with the rest of the public service, that there is a more dictatorial attitude in the Ordnance Survey than obtains elsewhere in the public service. It may well be that this is so because of the military type legacy that pervades the Ordnance Survey for historical reasons and that this is at odds with more modern style systems of consultation. There are a number of issues here which deserve serous consideration. I look forward very much to the Minister's reply.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Daly) Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Daly)
 Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Daly): I am grateful for the opportunity to outline for this House the current position of the Ordnance Survey Office. The basic objective in today's climate for the Ordnance Survey is to supply a product — mapping — to meet the demands of the marketplace. In meeting this demand regard must be had to commercial realities. One of those realities is that the funds allocated by the State must be expended in the most cost effective and productive manner; another is that the needs of the market must be supplied; and yet another critical one is that consumers of the products supplied by the Ordnance Survey must be prepared to pay for that product.
The present position is that the Survey spends about £6 million a year, apart from capital investment, but it effectively earns only about £2 million a year in revenue from all sources. So we have a business supplying a product at an annual loss of some £4 million a year. On top of that about £1.5 million is being spent in the current year on capital investment. Against this background, it was necessary to review the operation of the Survey and a very careful and detailed review has taken place.
There were two principal questions to be answered. Was the Survey producing the products the market wanted; and, is production handled in the most economical and cost effective way? The first point was the question of the products. For a start it is acknowledged by everyone that the availability of mapping is essential to virtually every facet of society. To name but a few, the planners of infrastructural services — roads, water supplies, sewerage piping, electricity, telephones — all require basic maps on which to base their activities. Business and individual users need maps on which records of their property can be made.
Having accepted the prima facie need for mapping, the next thing was to look at the products. One of the main products is the 1:1,000 which is the basic map of the city and urban areas, including small towns. This programme has been the major priority of the Survey — it involves expenditures of roughly £2 million a year  and income generated is less than £1 million. The present position is that the programme is more or less fully up to date in that almost all urban areas are mapped and are under what is called continuous revision. The review accepted that the maintenance of this programme on an up-to-date basis deserved to be accorded top priority, given the complexity and sheer scale of private, commercial and public development which exists in the areas covered by it.
Another product is the 1:2,500, which deals with the rural areas. This costs about £3.5 million a year to run, but only generates about £0.5 million in income, so the loss is running at £3 million a year. The present position is that the programme is not up to date; and, if the manner in which it was being produced were to continue unchanged and the resources allocated to it were maintained, the programme would never be finished. Once an area is remapped it is then kept under revision and as the years progress more staff would be concentrating on revision and fewer and fewer on remapping, so the programme would grind to a halt. From the market viewpoint, there is a need for mapping for property transaction purposes. The needs of other users such as planners and researchers need to be taken into account, but the scale of maps they need differs substantially from those of property owners. All in all, the position of this programme from a financial point of view and from the consumer end is less than satisfactory, to say the least.
Another product is what is called small scale mapping which is basically aimed at the tourist market. Any mapping in this area is extremely old and does not meet the needs of the market. Critical to this area is the 1:50,000, which is the standard local tourist map in most countries. Prior to the commencement of the review, the Survey had produced none of these and this was a matter of considerable concern as the product is an essential tool for walking and rambling holidays. Senators will be aware that the Government have set very ambitious targets for the entire tourist industry. This particular segment of the market already generates some £60 million revenue a year and Bord Fáilte  are targeting a 15 per cent per annum growth in this for the next few years. The non-availability of the 1:50,000 series would impede the achievement of these targets. In addition to tourist interests, the security services require maps of various scales for a variety of reasons.
Having considered these various needs, it was decided that a 1:50,000 series of maps should be produced as a matter of urgency. It will be possible to derive other products at different scales from this basic map at a later date. To date three provisional maps have been produced — the MacGillicuddy Reeks, the Slieve Blooms and the Wicklow mountains and I have copies of these here if any Senator would like to see them.
This brings us on to the question of how maps should be produced. Until recently maps were produced completely by field observation and the results were manually compiled and stored in the Survey's head office in the Phoenix Park. Over the last number of years, technological progress has allowed for the field results to be translated digitally by computer into map form. The 1:50,000 series that I have just mentioned is produced by way of extremely expensive and complicated machinery which translates aerial surveys into stored data in the computer, so field work is reduced to a minimum. In addition to this, the pace of technological progress in the whole area is so rapid now that the whole prodedure for producing the other mapping products — the large-scale urban and rural maps—will change dramatically. Much of the basic work can be done by the use of imagery, consisting of both aerial photography and of satellite data, for compiling the basic product, with the result that the need to have personnel laboriously observing and measuring data in the field will be dramatically reduced.
Taking account of all that, the Ordnance Survey was asked in 1989 to: maintain the urban mapping programme on an up to date basis; accelerate the production of the 1:50,000 series so as to produce 30 maps within the next three years tackling the priority needs identified by Bord Fáilte and the security services first; to continue the 1:2,500 rural series subject to further review in  the current year in the light of field trials on the application of modern technology to establish what improvements in productivity are possible.
In addition, the first stage in a three year programme to upgrade the computer capacity of the survey and to provide the latest technology was put in place in the current year with an allocation of £1.5 million for capital investment in this whole area. The manner in which these various requirements were implemented was a matter which was left to the local management in the Ordnance Survey.
I now turn to the question of staff transfers. About 15 staff were transferred from areas near Dublin back to headquarters to deal with a logjam in the normal production chain of translating field data into the final product. These staff were mainly living in the Dublin area and working down from there.
As I indicated already, production of the 1:50,000 series is virtually entirely desk based. Because of this, the management proposed to move 25 staff from field work to headquarters. A problem then arose because some of these officers, despite being required to make themselves available for transfer if and when required, expressed unwillingness to move. They also maintained that if they were to move, they would have to be paid removal expenses. At this point I should mention that staff on field work get the benefit of generous field allowances. These allowances are, in part, intended to compensate field officers for the liability to move to different work locations from time to time. Also, staff in receipt  of field allowances are not entitled to field allowances on returning to Dublin.
In order to minimise the disruptive effects on staff and on the work of the Survey, the Minister has asked his officials to explore whether there is any way that the 1:50,000 series can be produced without returning staff to Dublin. Initial indications are that if a few small regional offices were established and the staff concerned were headquartered in these locations, the moves to Dublin might be avoided and many of the staff would be able to travel from their existing homes to these locations.
In addition to the 1:50,000 series there is also the consideration that changes in technology will probably lead very quickly to a situation where the need to have the remaining 65 staff operating in the field will be significantly reduced.
In the light of all this I have asked the management of the Survey to produce a detailed report on the possibilities on this front by the end of April at the latest and to put the matter of the transfers on hold until this report is considered. This will, of course, be a matter for further discussion between the staff representatives and the management in the Survey.
The Minister looks forward to the results of this exercise.
Professor Murphy Professor Murphy
Professor Murphy: I welcome very much the indication that there is recognition of a problem here and that the Minister agrees no purpose will be served by any discontent in such a vital service that affects tourism and local government. I would like to thank the Minister.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15 March 1990.
Seanad Éireann 124 Adjournment Matter. Ordnance Survey Staff.