costs and benefits |
10. Public bodies have not focused on securing
value for money from transparency. They know little about the
costs of various types of data release. While costs are not high
relative to overall public spending, they are incurred even for
the most straightforward data releases. Some departments have
estimated the costs of producing the standard releases required
of all departments, such as spend data and organograms, which
range from approximately £50,000 to £500,000 per annum.
We also heard that costs for local authorities of releasing their
expenditure data can range from virtually zero to £100,000
per annum. Greater
costs are incurred where government itself is responsible for
repackaging data to aid accessibility and interpretation; for
example set-up costs of £300,000 and annual running costs
of more than £150,000 in the case of police crime maps.
11. Government witnesses provided examples of
service improvement resulting from making public data transparent.
For example, we were told that the fall in death rates attributed
to publishing more information on heart surgery by hospitals and
surgeons, yielded benefits to all members of society.
However, there is little specific information on the benefits
of the Government's current transparency initiatives. We heard
that more than 90% of the 47 million visits there have been to
the crime map website were within two weeks of the launch following
high levels of press coverage, suggesting that initial high levels
of interest have not been sustained.
There is potential for the crime map website to help taxpayers
hold the police and the Home Office to account, but simple metrics
like the number of website visits are not enough. More needs to
be done to establish how visitors use the information, and whether
it is genuinely contributing to better accountability.
12. Some Government bodiestrading funds
in particularcurrently sell some of the data they produce.
For example, the Ordnance Survey produces mapping information;
the Met Office, meteorological information; the Land Registry,
information on land use; and Companies House, information on registered
companies. Although estimates are imprecise, academics have suggested
that the value to the economy of releasing data for free rather
than charging for it may be in the region of £1.6 billion
to £6.0 billion per year.
However, the Government has not yet carried out its own assessment
of the potential future benefits of making data held by trading
funds freely available, against the revenue that would be lost.
13. At present, trading funds have limited freedom
to offset the revenue loss that would result from free release,
though the significance of this issue varies by trading fund.
The Government has recently established new governance arrangements
for the four main trading funds, which are forming a Public Data
Group and are continuing their trading functions. Separately,
a Data Strategy Board is being established to promote the release
of open data and will receive £7 million in the current spending
review period to buy data for free release. In the absence of
a wider evaluative model of costs and benefits, it is unclear
whether these arrangements optimise value for money.
14. We heard from the Cabinet Office that the
new Open Data Institute will have a role in assessing the economic
and public service benefits of making data freely available, although
the details are not yet clear. In addition, the Cabinet Office
will challenge departments to articulate how they are improving
accountability and choice through their transparency releases.
16 C&AG's Report, para 2.17 Back
Qq 13, 21 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.19 Back
Q 119 Back
Q 26 Back
Q 33 Back
C&AG's Report, para 4.9 Back
Q 24 Back
Q 25 Back
Q 25, C&AG's Report, para 4.12 Back
Qq 93, 100-101 Back