The economic contribution of Ordnance Survey GB (1999)


This report focuses on the contribution OS makes to the Great Britain economy, but it also looks at the wider, mainly intangible, contribution that it makes to society. Ideally, both would have been measured on a common scale. There are techniques that enable analysts to place monetary values on some of the wider benefits, but a full analysis of theWTP for OS services has not been possible within this timescale. Moreover, however successful an analysis might be in deriving such values, there will always be omissions and uncertainty. Some broader social values will never be measurable on a monetary scale. The report has, therefore:

  • looked at some of the social gains resulting from the use of OS products, and has concluded that OS is an integral part of national life in Great Britain
  • examined the uses made of OS products by the various organisations, both commercial and public, and has made a rough estimate of the contribution to GDP of those sectors most dependent on OS products


Inevitably, given that a numerical result has been produced, it is this second part of the analysis that is likely to attract most attention. It will be unfortunate if the first contribution is forgotten—it is a mistake only to recognise factors that can be measured in monetary terms. Nevertheless, it is probably inevitable that the main result which people will take from a study of ‘the economic contribution of OS’ will be a monetary figure. The central estimate has the following elements:

  • OS’s own value-added as a provider of products and services
  • the spill over value generated through the use of these products and services by other producers
  • the margin earned by distributors of OS products and services
  • the value of OS to its suppliers

Geographical scope


Non-quantified impacts

The report estimates that OS itself, together with its suppliers and distributors, plus those parts of the economy which make significant use of OS products, contribute 12–20% of GVA. It is the outputs from the other parts of the economy which play the largest role in this total. Indeed, up to 80% of this total (depending on the assumptions about ‘dependency’) is made up from the output of three sectors: the utilities, local government, and transport.

Quantifiable impacts

The figure below shows the breakdown of the estimate that, in 1996, GBP 79 – GBP 136 billion worth of GVA was dependent to some extent on OS products and services. The authors highlight that this is not the same as saying that, were there to be no OS activity, GDP would be some GBP 79 – GBP 136 billion less; in the absence of OS, the economy would find other ways to obtain GI. Equally, the authors are not saying that OS contributes GBP 79 – GBP 136 billion to GDP. Nevertheless, the estimate does demonstrate that GI in general, and OS in particular, play a significant role in the economy

Inevitably, there are omissions from an analysis conducted at this level of aggregation. A major omission is that, while reference has been made to the economic contribution made by OS’s competitors (section 8), it has not been possible to estimate the extent to which the products and services of these companies are themselves based on OS data. An estimate of this kind would add to the total in the figure below. There would, in principle, then be another chain to be followed through (i.e., estimates of the value added by those sectors dependent on the products and services of OS’s competitors). In practice, however, most of these sectors will already have been covered in the estimates of the value added by OS’s customers. Therefore, although this omission is important in principle, in practice the overall impact on the total set out in the figure below is likely to be small.

The GVA of OS and its suppliers and distributors and of sectors that rely to a significant extent on OS products and services, 1996.



Study type

Welfare analysis

Economy sector

Education, Water, Infrastructure (Transport), Infrastructure (ICT), Health, Disaster Risk Management, Retail, Finance, Real Estate and Land Administration, Public Sector Central Government, Agriculture