Minor British Institutions: Ordnance Survey

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The Independent Online

Given all the major banks that have been nationalised or semi-nationalised recently, it seems odd indeed that the Government still seems set on privatising Ordnance Survey. Something of a minnow when set against Northern Rock or RBS, Ordnance Survey has been doing that old-fashioned Victorian thing of public service since, well, before Victorian times.

Its origins are military, and its first, rather shameful task was to assist in the crushing of Scottish resistance to the Union. Now, of course, it is the indispensable aid of surveyors and hikers everywhere. County by county it has mapped this sceptred isle, commencing in 1801 with the first one-inch-to-the-mile (1:63,360 scale) topography of Kent.

Two centuries on, OS has even gone digital, though it doesn't seem to have gained the profile that Google Earth has. Maybe selling it off at a fire sale price to the private sector in the middle of a credit crisis will help; maybe another minor institution will be needlessly commercialised into extinction.