UKHO announces 'partnering opportunities'

The UK Hydrographic Office yesterday announced its intention to seek a commercial partner to ‘help develop its offering to leisure customers.’ The partner will help to extend and expand the UKHO’s paper and digital navigational products via the Admiralty Leisure brand. According to the current schedule, proposals are invited until 1 September 2008 and the contract will be awarded in February 2009.

This announcement follows a report by the Office of Fair Trading in 2007 that criticised Government agencies selling public sector information for profit, as their Trading Fund status confers. The report suggested such agencies should separate their commercial and strategic activities, which in this case means the sale of navigational products and the collection of raw data. This affects not only the UKHO, but also the Met Office, both agencies of the Ministry of Defence with Trading Fund status.

There are three potential long term outcomes:
1. The commercial partnership arrangement succeeds
2. The UKHO is privatised with the Ministry of Defence being the sole or majority shareholder
3. Admiralty Leisure is sold off as a commercial enterprise

Exactly what this will mean for yachtsmen is, as yet, unclear but it is an unsettling sign that much-treasured family silver, like the 200 year-old UKHO and the 150 year-old Met Office, is being flogged off like bric-a-brac at a car boot sale.