Industry voice: Unique property and street reference numbers should be part of the core systems for all public sector organisations, writes Nick Chapallaz, chief executive of GeoPlace
Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) and Unique Street Reference Numbers (USRNs) have made their mark in local government and are now being used by many councils as a significant element in their data management to support a wide range of services and planning.
Now we at GeoPlace, the joint venture between the Local Government Association (LGA) and Ordnance Survey that maintains the national register of UPRNs and USRNs, is promoting the vision of their ubiquitous use throughout the public sector. It comes with the promise of immense value in the data to take the planning and management of public services to a new level.
The UPRN is the unique identifier for every addressable location in Great Britain, allocated to street addresses by local authorities and objects on the landscape by Ordnance Survey. It provides a consistent identifier throughout the property’s life cycle and a linking mechanism for relevant data from different sources. Similarly, the USRN is the unique identifier for every street in the UK.
While the appreciation of the value has grown, there is still scope for it go much further, and recent developments are pointing towards a new surge in its utilisation.
Opening up data
One is that the Government has been highlighting the importance of geographic data. In June it announced plans to make some Ordnance Survey MasterMap datasets more freely available and for us to work with the LGA and Scotland’s Improvement Service on releasing UPRNs and USRNs under the Open Government Licence. This is aimed at making it easier for organisations to publish their own data created with these elements.
It has also established the Geospatial Commission to develop a strategy for using public sector location data to support economic growth. It is involved in the work on releasing UPRNs and USRNs and GeoPlace looks forward to working with it on other issues in the near future.
In addition, the UPRN data is now well beyond the tipping point of being recognised for its quality and strengths by those who use it. A large number of authorities have harnessed the data for positive outcomes, including: Denbeighshire to secure funding and improve tenants’ housing conditions; Mid Sussex District Council to obtain £2.2 million of Government funding for local broadband improvements; and Reigate & Banstead to ensure equality in reviewing its electoral wards.
Beyond local government, communications regulator Ofcom has used UPRNs to support work on fulfilling the universal service obligation for broadband to ensure its policy analysis is dependable and authoritative.
This is supported by our unique connectivity with local authorities, providing the channels for them to supply regular updates on their registers of UPRNs and USRNs and maintaining the national list to ensure no anomalies creep in to weaken the quality of the data.
But we are now aiming to get every public service organisation, and many in the private sector, using UPRNs and USRNs as part of their core systems. They will provide the greatest value when used within every transaction that involves reference to a street address, with an extra layer of assurance that it applies to the correct property, and support for analysis and planning that draws on location data.
There are four areas in which we can see they have great potential. One is in providing efficiencies and cost savings for public authorities and the commercial sector, filling gaps and eradicating overlaps to ensure that services are targeted at the correct addresses.
Second is to facilitate more effective transactions between different areas of government and the commercial sector. This can support joined up working by central and local government and holds its largest promise in strengthening the integration of health and social care – now one of the major priorities of public services. Telecoms and fibre roll out requires working between service providers and the highways authorities providing access for street works, and HM Revenue & Customs requires definitive data when transacting with businesses.
Third is to improve the coordination between local authorities and contractors delivering outsourced services. UPRNs can provide solid base data to underpin councils’ efforts in managing service suppliers, and as local government continues the move towards commissioning rather than directly providing services it will become an imperative to ensure the contractors have a clear understanding of where they should focus their efforts.
Fourth comes their role in supporting next generation technologies. Drones, robots and connected autonomous vehicles will all depend on a robust national location data infrastructure, and UPRNs provide the certainty about location to ensure they are reliable in navigating to the correct point.
Of course it requires an effort by an authority to allocate and maintain the list of UPRNs and USRNs, but our research has shown that there is an impressive return on investment: for every £1 spent on managing the data there is a minimum of £4 in efficiency returns.
It can feed into reducing the duplication of effort, both in data cleaning and service delivery, and help to cut fraud in areas such as benefit claims and subsidies. Organisations are steadily finding more purposes for which they can be used and we can expect new elements to arise in the RoI.
We are ready to make a sustained effort to encourage the usage of UPRNs and USRNs. Among our plans for the next two years is to create a system in which councils can directly load the information into the central database, freeing them of the need to regularly send updated files.
We also want to create an API link to the database, which would provide a boost for organisations wanting to create apps that draw on the data.
In addition, we will continue to highlight the benefits and the use cases demonstrating what it has delivered for specific organisations. We want to extend these beyond local government to show how these identifiers can be used by housing associations, infrastructure providers, community groups and other bodies.
Experimentation and mandation
But it needs support. Organisations that have used them successfully should continue to invest in address managers and can encourage their partners to work with them on new applications, and legislation mandating their use by central government would provide a major boost. A combination of experimentation and mandation will be the key to unleashing the full potential.
The message to the existing users in local authorities remains that which has helped to build the momentum: they are already investing in the asset and should make the most of it in as many services as possible. The more it is used, the larger the RoI will become.
To others, it is to learn from what these councils have achieved, talk to them and us about the value of UPRNs and USRNs, and think about what high quality location data can do for your own services.
Making them ubiquitous will be a major step towards a more efficient and effective public sector for the next decade.
Image of Leeds city centre provided by GeoPlace