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New data release opens the lid on charity finances

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

Francis Maude confirms more open data releases as the government responds to the Shakespeare review.

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Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude today announced new commitments on open data that will give citizens detailed information on the operations of charities and companies. For the first time, information about how charities earn and spend their money will be available in an open data format. When turned into applications by technology developers, this will help citizens to make more informed decisions about the causes they consider supporting.

A recent study by Ipsos MORI (pdf) shows that lack of knowledge about how charities spend their money is one of the main barriers to trust and giving in the charitable sector. Almost half of people with low trust in charities (45%) feel they “spend too much of their funds on salaries/administration”, while more than a quarter (27%) say they do “not know how charities spend their money” and around a fifth (21%) believe charities “waste money”.

Now, data held by the Charity Commission on the annual returns of charities in England and Wales is to be made available as free open data by March 2014. The data will give basic details, including headline income and expenditure, for all registered charities and will show how charities with an income of over £500,000 allocate their revenue across fundraising and governance, charitable activities and what they retain for future use. This follows the recent launch of the beta version of DfID’s aid tracker, which allows UK taxpayers to see where their money goes, what it is being spent on and with what result.

At the same time, HM Revenue & Customs has committed itself to a public consultation this summer on releasing parts of the VAT register as open data. One effect of the development of technologies to prove VAT registration could be to improve access to credit for businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Taken together, opening up information on UK organisations and corporations will enable the development of a raft of technologies that give citizens and government greater insight into corporate governance, exposing potential error and abuses, and allowing investors and donors to make more informed decisions.

Additionally, Land Registry has confirmed it is to publish historical Price Paid Data (PPD) in CSV format as linked data from June. This release will contain records of the price paid for every residential property sold at full market value and registered between 1 January 2009 and 31 January 2012 in England and Wales. The remaining historical PPD, covering the period from 1 January 1995 to 31 December 2008, will be published by November 2013.

Francis Maude said:

Data is transforming how we live and work. Public open data has a critical part to play in this transformation, allowing us to make more informed choices about how we run our lives. The data commitments we are announcing today will strengthen the hand of citizens in holding commercial and charitable organisations to account. They will also support growth and the creation of data-led businesses in the new information economy - helping the UK compete in the global race.

Also today, the government published its response to the Shakespeare Review of Public Sector Information. Francis Maude announced that government would take forward implementation plans through the Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan and collaborate with data users to identify datasets that should be part of a new National Information Infrastructure, to be released by 2015. This process will give business, civil society groups and individuals a say on which are the most important datasets held by government - particularly those that support economic growth - and allow them to more easily prepare for new dataset releases.

These announcements come as the UK prepares to host the G8 summit. As current G8 president, the UK has put open data and transparency at the heart of global attempts to tackle corruption and increase accountability. It is also championing the cause of open government and open data in democracies around the world as lead co-chair of the Open Government Partnership.

Notes to editors

  • Read the Ipsos MORI 2012 research on Public Perceptions of Charity here (pdf).
  • A key commitment in last year’s Open Data White Paper was the commission of an independent review of Public Sector Information (PSI). This review was launched in October 2012 by Stephan Shakespeare, Chair of the Data Strategy Board and CEO of YouGov. He was asked to look at progress so far on opening up public data and to set out his assessment of how the government should best use PSI to support economic growth. His report was published on 15 May 2013. Read the Shakespeare review here. The government’s detailed response to the report’s conclusions and recommendations can be read here.
Published 14 June 2013