News story

Letter to Cabinet Ministers on transparency and open data

In a letter to Cabinet Ministers, the Prime Minister committed to publishing key data on the National Health Service, schools, criminal courts and transport.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Dear Secretary of State

As you know, transparency is at the heart of our agenda for Government. We recognise that transparency and open data can be a powerful tool to help reform public services, foster innovation and empower citizens. We also understand that transparency can be a significant driver of economic activity, with open data increasingly enabling the creation of valuable new services and applications.

In May 2010, I set out the Government’s specific commitments on transparency in a letter to Cabinet colleagues. Over the past 12 months, we have successfully fulfilled these commitments, and demonstrated global leadership in government transparency and open data.

I am writing to you today to celebrate our achievements over that period and set out new commitments for the next 12 months. These commitments represent the most ambitious open data agenda of any government in the world, and demonstrate our determination to make the public sector more transparent and accountable.

These achievements would not have been possible without the efforts of our advisory groups: the Public Sector Transparency Board and the Local Public Data Panel. The members of these groups have continuously encouraged us to be more radical, more ambitious and more committed to this work. I thank each member for their support.

If our transparency focus over the past 12 months has been to open up core central government data in areas such as spending, our priority over the next year will be to release new data on the performance of public services. This revolution in government transparency will make it easier than ever before for the public to make informed choices between providers and hold government to account for the performance of key public services.

Open data achievements since May 2010

The list of key government datasets released since May 2010 is set out below:

Central government spending transparency

  • Historic COINS spending data published online
  • New central government ICT contracts published online
  • New central government tender documents for contracts over £10,000 published on a single website, with this information made available to the public free of charge
  • New items of central government spending over £25,000 published online
  • New central government contracts published in full
  • Full information on all DFID international development projects over £500 published online, including financial information and project documentation

Local government spending transparency

  • New items of local government spending over £500 published on a council-by-council basis
  • New local government contracts and tender documents for expenditure over £500 published in full

Other key government datasets

  • Crime data published at a level that allows the public to see what is happening on their streets
  • Names, grades, job titles and annual pay rates for the most Senior Civil Servants and NDPB officials
  • Organograms for central government departments and agencies that include all staff published in a common format on an interactive platform (

Improving data quality

In order to maximise the benefits of transparency, it is vital that data released by government are accurate, consistent and easily navigable. Over the next 12 months, we will take steps to improve the quality of data already being published, and ensure that it is updated on a regular basis.

  • All government spending data to include plain English descriptions explaining the scope and purpose of every transaction, from September 2011
  • Every department, working with the Cabinet Office transparency team, to produce an action plan in November 2011 for improving the quality and comparability of data
  • Unique reference indicators to be introduced by DBIS and HMRC beginning in December 2011. These will enable the public to track more easily the interaction between companies and government bodies

New transparency commitments

All data listed below, as with existing data commitments, must be published in an open standardised format so that it can be freely re-used under the Open Government Licence by third parties.


  • Data on comparative clinical outcomes of GP practices in England to be published by December 2011, following the lead of the NHS in London which has agreed a set of 22 indicators with local GPs
  • Prescribing data by GP practice to be published by December 2011, as per the Growth Review
  • Complaints data by NHS hospital so that patients can see what issues have affected others and take better decisions about which hospital suits them. This commitment will be met by October 2011
  • Clinical audit data, detailing the performance of publicly funded clinical teams in treating key healthcare conditions, will be published from April 2012. This service will be piloted in December 2011 using data from the latest National Lung Cancer Audit, commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) as part of the National Clinical Audit and Patient Outcomes Programme (NCAPOP)
  • Data on staff satisfaction and engagement by NHS provider (for example by hospital and mental health trust) will be published from December 2011
  • Data on the quality of post-graduate medical education by provider will be published from April 2012.

Education & Skills

  • Data enabling parents to see how effective their school is at teaching high, average and low attaining pupils across a range of subjects, to be published from January 2012
  • Opening up access to anonymised data from the National Pupil Database to help parents and pupils to monitor the performance of their schools in depth, from June 2012.  This will enable better comparisons of school performance and we will look to strengthen datasets in due course
  • Bringing together for the first time school spending data, school performance data, pupil cohort data and Ofsted judgements, from January 2012, in a parent-friendly portal, searchable by postcode
  • Data on attainment of students eligible for pupil premium to be published from January 2012
  • Data on apprenticeships paid for by HM Government, by organisation and by success rate, to be published from July 2011.

Criminal justice

  • Sentencing data by court will be published by November 2011, enabling the public to see exactly what sentences are being handed down in their local courts, and compare different courts on a wide range of measures. The data, anonymised, will include the age, gender and ethnicity of those sentenced, the sentence given, and the time taken at each stage from offence to completion of the case in court
  • Data on performance of probation services and prisons including re-offending rates by offender and institution, to be published from October 2011
  • From May 2012, the national crime mapping website,, will provide the public with information on what happens next for crime occurring on their streets, i.e. police action and justice outcomes.


In addition to opening up data owned by DfT and its arms length bodies, we are committed to working with the transport industry and data users to make public transport data open and freely available for re-use. Over the next year we will deliver:

  • Data on current and future roadworks on the Strategic Road Network will be published from October 2011, and subject to consultation extended during 2012 to Local Authority Streetworks Registers maintained under statute
  • All remaining government-owned free datsets from Transport Direct, including cycle route data and the national car park database to be made available for free re-use from October 2011
  • Real time data on the Strategic Road Network including incidents, speeds and congestion to be published from December 2011
  • Office of Rail Regulation to increase the amount of data published relating to service performance and complaints by May 2012
  • Rail timetable information to be published weekly by National Rail from December 2011.

Government financial information

  • We are working with the purchase and payment card providers to provide a consistent method of reporting government procurement card spend data for transactions above £500 in value, so this is available for publication on departmental websites, from end September 2011.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office will lead on this important agenda, and the Cabinet Office will publish a Transparency and Right to Data Strategy this summer. We will work with Departments to revise their Information Strategies to be published in refreshed departmental business plans from April 2012, setting out the detailed steps that each Department will take to drive openness and accountability. In addition, the second phase of the Growth Review will include a specific work strand on the economic opportunities of open data, and transparency boards will be established in each of the key delivery departments (health, education, justice, work and pensions, transport).

I look forward to welcoming rapid progress on this agenda in the coming weeks.

I am copying this letter to Sir Gus O’Donnell.

Published 7 July 2011