Conclusions and recommendations |
1. The Government has set public accountability,
service improvement and economic growth objectives for its transparency
agenda, but it is not clear that the data released will enable
government to meet those objectives.
We are concerned about gaps in giving relevant information in
some sectors to inform choice and accountability, and about the
comparability of information where data is incomplete or of poor
quality. For example, the price and performance information for
adult social care is incomplete and cannot be easily compared
across local authority boundaries. In developing open data strategies,
the Cabinet Office should ensure that Departments specify what
information will be released, and that it is adequate to meet
stated transparency objectives.
2. The presentation of much government data
is poor. The Cabinet Office recognises
problems with the functionality and usability of its data.gov.uk
portal. Government efforts to help users access data, as in crime
maps and the schools performance website, have yielded better
rates of access. But simply dumping data without appropriate interpretation
can be of limited use and frustrating. Four out of five people
who visit the Government website leave it immediately without
accessing links to data. So there is a clear benefit to the public
when government data is analysed and interpreted by third parties
- whether that be, for example, by think-tanks, journalists, or
those developing online products and smartphone applications.
Indeed, the success of the transparency agenda depends on such
broader use of public data. The Cabinet Office should ensure that:
- the publication of data is
accessible and easily understood by all; and
- where government wants to encourage user choice,
there are clear criteria to determine whether government itself
should repackage information to promote public use, or whether
this should be done by third parties.
3. In some sectors different provider types
are subject to different transparency requirements, and this undermines
the comparability of data for users. For
example, spending per pupil in individual academy schools is not
made available, and consequently value for money cannot be compared
fully with maintained schools. Government should ensure that there
is a level playing field in information requirements between different
provider types, for example, academies and maintained schools,
so that we can know the cost per pupil in different settings.
4. Government does not understand the costs
and benefits of its transparency agenda. Departments
have not monitored the costs of releasing data, and little is
known about the benefits, making it difficult to prioritise, or
achieve value for money from, the Government's transparency programme.
The Cabinet Office has stated that the Open Data Institute will
establish a fuller evidence base on economic and public service
benefits of open data. The Cabinet Office should develop a comprehensive
analysis of costs, benefits and risks, to guide future decisions
on what data to make available.
5. The Government has not got a clear evidence
based policy on whether or not to charge for data. Some
bodies, such as the Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry
and Companies House, operate as trading funds that depend on generating
a share of their revenue from data sales. Academic estimates suggest
that there would be considerable economic benefits from making
that data available for free. The Government, however, has not
developed a strategic approach, and has a convoluted proposal
to purchase some public data from its own trading funds and other
parts of the public sector, and then make the data freely available
to others. It is not clear whether the established trading fund
structures are compatible with the policy objective of stimulating
economic growth through more open data release. The Cabinet Office
should work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
to establish whether the economic benefits from making traded
data freely available would outweigh the revenue lost.
6. We are concerned that 'commercial confidentiality'
may be used as an inappropriate reason for non-disclosure of data.
If transparency is to be meaningful and comprehensive, private
organisations providing public services under contract must make
available all relevant public information. The Cabinet Office
should set out policies and guidance for public bodies to build
full information requirements into their contractual agreements,
in a consistent way. Transparency on contract pricing which is
often hidden behind commercial confidentiality clauses would help
to drive down costs to the taxpayer.
7. Departments do not make it easy for users
to understand the full range of information available to them.
Public bodies have not generally provided
full inventories of all of the information they hold, and which
may be available for disclosure. The Cabinet Office should develop
guidance for departments on information inventories, covering,
for example, classes of information, formats, accuracy and availability;
and it should mandate publication of the inventories, in an easily
8. There is a risk that those without internet
access will not gain the full benefits of more open public data.
Much of the transparency agenda, and associated
benefits, depends on internet-based products and applications.
However, there are still over 8 million people who do not have
access to the internet and they will tend to be the very people
who most rely on public services, and for whom data on public
services will be most useful and most important. Where transparency
supports user choice in public services, they are particularly
likely to be disadvantaged. We recognise that the Government is
working to improve access but further steps to ensure universal
access to public data should be developed and set out.