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Letter to government departments on opening up data

A letter from Prime Minister David Cameron to government departments on plans to open up government data

Read the letter

Greater transparency across government is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account; to reduce the deficit and deliver better value for money in public spending; and to realise significant economic benefits by enabling businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites using public data.

The government must set new standards for transparency, and our Coalition Programme for Government sets out a number of specific commitments. The government’s initial transparency commitments are set out below, alongside deadlines for publication. Limited exemptions on national security and personal privacy grounds will be permitted.

Central government spending transparency

  • historic COINS spending data to be published online in June 2010
  • all new central government ICT contracts to be published online from July 2010
  • all new central government lender documents for contracts over £10,000 to be published on a single website from September 2010, with this information to be made available to the public free of charge
  • new items of central government spending over £25,000 to be published online from November 2010
  • all new central government contracts to be published in full from January 2011
  • full information on all DFID international development projects over £500 to be published online from January 2011, including financial information and project documentation

Local government spending transparency

  • new items of local government spending over £500 to be published on a council-by-council basis from January 2011
  • new local government contracts and tender documents for expenditure over £500 to be published in full from January 2011

Other key government datasets

  • crime data to be published at a level that allows the public to see what is happening on their streets from January 2011
  • names, grades, job titles and annual pay rates for most Senior Civil Servants with salaries above £150,000 to be published in June 2010
  • names, grades, job titles and annual pay rates for most Senior Civil Servants and NDPB officials with salaries higher than the lowest permissible in Pay Band 1 of the Senior Civil Service pay scale to be published from September 2010
  • organograms for central government departments and agencies that include all staff positions to be published in a common format from October 2010

Given the importance of this agenda, the Deputy Prime Minister and I would be grateful if departments would take immediate action to meet this timetable for data transparency, and to ensure that any data published is made available in an open format so that it can be re-used by third parties. From July 2010, government departments and agencies should ensure that any information published includes the underlying data in an open standardised format.

Of course, the release of the datasets specified in the Coalition Programme is just the beginning of the transparency process. In advance of introducing any necessary legislation to effect our Right to Data proposals, public requests to departments for the release of government datasets should be handled in line with the principles underpinning those proposals: a presumption in favour of transparency, with all published data licensed for free reuse.

To oversee the implementation of our transparency commitments, a Public Sector Transparency Board will be established in the Cabinet Office, which will be chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude. Board representation will include a mix of external experts and data users, and public sector data specialists; members will include Tom Steinberg, one of the UK’s leading experts on data transparency. The Board will provide support to departments as they deliver on the government’s transparency commitments set out in this letter. The Board will also be responsible for setting open data standards across the public sector, publishing further datasets on the basis of public demand, and - in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice - will further develop the Right to Data and advise on its implementation.

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

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

David Cameron

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