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From the Great Plague to Brexit: £50M Public Record Contract Up for Grabs

From print in 1665 to XML and APIs in 2018

By CBR Staff Writer

The Gazette has been the official public record of England since November 1665. It has published notices of significant historical events from the Great Plague to news of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

It advertises 450 different types of notice; including 242 that are required by law to be published in The Gazette alone; when a bill is given royal assent or a company becomes incorporated, The Gazette prints it.

Now, in a landmark £50 million contract, the publication – also the official home of the Queen’s Birthday honours – is set to get a new operator, after the National Archives put a concession to run it out to tender today.

Who Currently Runs The Gazette?

The Gazette is now largely online based (with XML and RDF repositories, a platform based on Open Data standards and a website underpinned by an open RESTful API) with a daily print run of just 80 editions.

The Gazette is formally a combination of The London Gazette, The Belfast Gazette and The Edinburgh Gazette

It is run for the National Archives by outsourcing giant Williams Lea (in turn majority-owned by private equity house Advent International since 2017).

But the contract’s now up for renewal. Estimated to be worth £50 million, tenders or requests to participate need to be received by December 12, 17:00.

In a notice published on a European tenders page, The National Archives (TNA) wrote: “The TNA intends to award the concession contract for a period of 5 years. TNA requires the appointed concessionaire to deliver the concession contract at NIL cost to TNA, and to also deliver a substantial royalty return to TNA.”

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(While significant amounts of data are freely accessible across The Gazette following a digitalisation programme by Williams Lea, there are charges for the publication of notices and advertisements in the publication).

The National Archives, Kew

Platform Already Well Digitalised

The Gazette, formally, a combination of The London Gazette, The Belfast Gazette and The Edinburgh Gazette was heavily digitalised in 2013 and the winning contractor will take over a comparatively modern platform.

Publicly available online datasets from The Gazette go back as far as 1900 and cover areas such as wills and probate, appointments and honours, and insolvencies.

The Gazette is now a rich source of open data, including longitudinal datasets and linked data, and is available to search and use online for free.

See also: Mozilla’s “Common Voice” Project Goes Multilingual

In a blog on the National Archives’s website earlier this year, the organisation’s Elizabeth Hendry and Victoria Merrison wrote: “Today, notices to be published in The Gazette can be submitted either as full text or as data. If only the data is provided, then it is merged with an existing template to produce a full notice.”

“Once the notice has been published, the RDFa (Route Description Framework in Attributes) is extracted from the notice and stored as RDF in a triple store. This provides both document views of the notice and data views of the notice. The linked data application programming interface (API) allows a notice to be retrieved via format-specific URLs. The formats that can be queried include PDF, TTL, RDF, JSON, HTML and XML.”


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