MPs Attack Sale Of Royal Mail Postcode Database
The Government has been slammed for selling a valuable database of every British postcode and address in last year's flotation of the Royal Mail.
Ministers were strongly criticised for including the register, which contains 1.8 million postcodes and all 28 million addresses, to help boost the share price in the initial public offering (IPO).
The cross-party Commons Public Administration Committee said the Postcode Address File (PAF) was a "national asset" which should have been retained and made publicly available to benefit businesses and the economy.
It said the PAF's sale achieved only "short-term gain" in last autumn's IPO and was an "unacceptable and unnecessary consequence of privatisation".
The committee said losing the database to the private sector has the potential to thwart economic innovation and growth.
Committee chairman Bernard Jenkin said: "The sale of the PAF with the Royal Mail was a mistake. Public access to public sector data must never be sold or given away again."
The PAF holds all known Royal Mail delivery points in the UK and the committee said an immense amount of work went into collecting the database and said it was of "huge direct value" to the economy.
In a statement to Sky News, the Royal Mail defended its position and said it takes its "responsibilities and obligations" for the PAF "very seriously".
It said: "Last year, Ofcom held a review of the PAF's pricing and licensing framework and recognised the integral relationship between PAF and delivery of the Universal Service Obligation (USO).
"Without positive and progressive management of PAF, our operational ability to deliver the USO would be severely undermined.
"Following its consultation, Ofcom concluded in July 2013 that Royal Mail should continue to be able to recover both the internal and external costs of PAF from licensees.
"In addition, in 2011 Parliament decided that the PAF should be available to all on reasonable terms."
The Royal Mail flotation was widely criticised for having an undervalued opening price.
The Government sold shares last October for 330p each, valuing the company's equity at £3.3bn.
Shares rose to more than 500p within a week of the sale, drawing more criticism of the float price.
Sky News City Editor Mark Kleinman later revealed investment bank JP Morgan had previously told the Government that the Royal Mail could be worth near to £10bn - 200% up on the float price.
The PAC added: "The Postcode Address File was included in the sale to boost the Royal Mail share price at flotation.
"This takes an immediate but narrow view of the value of such data sets."
"The PAF should have been retained as a public data set, as a national asset, available free to all, for the benefit of the public and for the widest benefit of the UK economy.
"Its disposal for a short-term gain will impede economic innovation and growth. This was an unacceptable and unnecessary consequence of privatisation."