Ordnance Survey under fire over ‘distorted’ accounts.

The National Audit Office has qualified the accounts of the Ordnance Survey, Britain’s official mapping agency.

In a report to parliament on the agency’s first set of accounts as a trading fund, comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn said he had taken the step because of the OS’s decision not to value the National Topographic Database – the definitive computerised map of Great Britain.

The OS had refused to value the database as a tangible fixed asset, arguing it was intellectual property and therefore intangible. Under FRS10 – ‘Goodwill and Intangible Assets’, such assets need not be accounted for on the balance sheet.

But Sir John believed, unlike intangible fixed assets such as trademarks, brands or patents, the database was in fact ‘an accurate representation of a physical reality’.

In a statement, the NAO said it should be capitalised in line with FRS15 on tangible fixed assets and valued at a minimum of #50m.

By not valuing the database, the NAO said that the accounts distorted the return on capital used. David Willey, director of business strategy and finance at the OS, hit back. He said: ‘We are not aware any other government database is treated in this way and our advisers are unaware of any in the private sector.’

The OS was supported by its financial adviser, Deloitte & Touche.

Related reading