Prime Minister David Cameron has written an article for The Telegraph on the opening up of public services’ performance and spending data.
Read the article
Government websites rarely have mass appeal. But a few months ago, one of our sites got up to 18 million hits in a single hour. Indeed, the volume of traffic was so great, the servers crashed. Were we handing out free money? Not quite. The reason millions flocked to this site is because, for the first time, we published street-level crime maps, showing exactly what crimes had been committed across the whole of England and Wales.
This incredible demand shows the power of transparency, and why we need more of it. Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats. It gives people new choices and chances, allowing them to make informed judgments about their future. And it lets our professionals judge themselves against one another, and our entrepreneurs develop new products and services.
In so many ways, information is a national asset, and it’s time it was shared. That’s why, since last year, we have published stacks of new data. Right now you can go online and look at the salaries of senior officials, the contracts signed by central and local government, and the breakdown of public spending.
But if the past 12 months have been about opening up Whitehall, the next 12 months must be about opening up public services. So today, we are making new commitments to transparency. For the first time, the raw data that will allow you to analyse the performance of public services will be made freely available.
Some may say: what’s new here? After all, we already have things like school league tables. But what we’re proposing is something entirely different. League tables are once-a-year snapshots of what is happening in our education system, with an exclusive focus on exam results. With our new plans, you’ll be able to drill down into the performance of individual schools, checking their exam results by subject area, absence rates and the quality of teaching.
Our aim is to provide similar information on performance right across the public services. So now, you’ll be able to compare the health outcomes of individual GP practices and hospital departments. You’ll be able to see not just what crimes have been committed on your street, but what action the police have taken. You’ll also know about congestion on local roads and delays on your railway line. And in all these areas, the data will be updated regularly.
This is a complete revolution in transparency - and it’s going to have a profound impact. First, it will enable choice, particularly for patients and parents. Next week, we are publishing our White Paper on the future of our public services. Professionals will see their discretion restored. And we will have real freedom to choose which hospital we get treated in or which school our child goes to. But for that choice to be meaningful, it must be informed.
Second, it will raise standards. All the evidence shows that when you give professionals information about other people’s performance, there’s a race to the top as they learn from the best. For example, five years ago, it was made far easier for the public to access, understand and use data on survival rates following heart surgery. And guess what happened? Those survival rates rose dramatically. Our doctors, teachers and police officers are passionate about driving up performance and being the best. Speak to them and they’ll tell you they desperately want this information, and this opportunity.
Third, this information is going to help us mend our economy. To begin with, it’s going to save money. Already, the information we have published on public spending has rooted out waste, stopped unnecessary duplication and put the brakes on ever-expanding executive salaries. Combine that with this new information on the performance of our public services, and there will be even more pressure to get real value for taxpayers’ money.
But transparency can help with the other side of the economic equation too - boosting enterprise. Estimates suggest the economic value of government data could be as much as £6 billion a year. Why? Because the possibilities for new business opportunities are endless. Imagine the innovations that could be created - the apps that provide up-to-date travel information; the websites that compare local school performance. But releasing all this data won’t just support new start-ups - it will benefit established industries too.
Take pharmaceuticals, an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people across the UK. The data we are releasing will enable medical researchers to look at how different drugs work in real-life populations, helping to make the UK the most attractive place in the world for research and development of the next generation of life-saving drugs. Not only will that benefit patients, but it will help to create new jobs and economic opportunities.
Sometimes in government you do things knowing that if another party came to power they might try to reverse them later. Sometimes, you do things knowing that the changes you make are here to stay. In the years to come, people will look back at the days when government kept all its data - your data - in vaults and think how strange it was that the taxpayers - the people who actually own all this - were locked out. But this whole process isn’t something government can do alone - you need to play your part too. Use this information, exploit it, hold your public services to account. They are there for you, so make them work for you.