Policy

Improving the transparency and accountability of government and its services

Issue

It’s important for the government to release data it holds, such as information on where money is spent and how well public services are performing. Not only does this let people hold government to account, but it can also help to improve efficiency, give people choice in using public services and contribute to economic growth. For instance:

  • publishing vast amounts of public sector spend data helps track civil service salaries, expenses and contracts, improving government accountability
  • data about public services’ performance (eg school results, court sentences or hospital waiting times) is a good way of measuring the effectiveness of our policies
  • by releasing public data, the government allows people to see how it is doing, while also looking at better ways to carry out public services
  • open data can boost economic growth - businesses can take the data and produce goods and services from it

However, in order for data to be used this way, it has to be released in a format that will allow people to share it and combine it with other data to use it in their own applications. This is why transparency isn’t just about access to data, but also making sure that it is released in an open, reusable format.

Actions

To achieve a more open, transparent government, we have:

  • made sure that citizens have greater access to data from major public services, including health, education, crime, justice and transport (eg police.uk, which shows people what’s happening on their streets)
  • set up data.gov.uk, one of the largest open data resources in the world
  • published data sets on www.data.gov.uk showing:
    • how public money has been spent and on what (monthly)
    • who does what in government and how much they are paid (6 monthly)
    • how government is doing against its objectives and goals (6 monthly)
  • published data on more than £188 billion of public spending, including any item of local government spend over £500, as well as new central government contracts and procurement tenders of more than £10,000 on Contracts Finder
  • made sure that every government department includes specific open data commitments in their business plans
  • introduced legislation on the right to public data to make sure that all the government data that can be published, is published in an accessible format
  • published the Open Data White Paper, which sets out the next steps on how we will improve access to data, improve public trust and use data more effectively

National Information Infrastructure

The National Information Infrastructure lists the datasets that would be the most important, and make the most social and economic impact if they were made freely available. The Cabinet Office published the first version of the National Information Infrastructure in October 2013.

Releasing more open data

Cabinet Office set up the Release of Data fund to help organisations who want to improve their data publication. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) also set up the Open Data Breakthrough Fund for both local and central government to overcome short-term financial barriers to releasing data. Find out more about both funds and how to apply.

Using data for growth

We will work with the Open Data Institute to help businesses that want to use public sector data to create new products and services. This includes making sure that data is released in anonymised, open formats. This will encourage entrepreneurs and businesses to develop a market for services, such as live travel update data or tools that compare GP surgeries by the quality of health and patient satisfaction.

Supporting transparency internationally

Under the UK’s presidency in 2013, G8 leaders agreed an Open Data Charter, which sets out a number of principles on access to data and on how data is released and reused. The UK plays an active role in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a group of governments committed to transparency, and hosted the 2013 OGP Summit in London in October 2013.

Background

In May 2010, the Prime Minister wrote to all government departments instructing them to become more transparent and open, by releasing data on finance, resources and procurement in an open, regular and re-usable format. A second letter in July 2011 concentrated on data releases from major public services including health, education, crime and justice, and transport.

Transparency and open data formed an important part of the second phase of the government’s Growth review, published in November 2011. In this, we outlined plans to release more aggregate data and set up the Open Data Institute (ODI).

Who we’ve consulted

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) consulted on the draft Anonymisation code of practice in 2012. The code sets out how effective anonymisation of personal data is possible.

We asked Stephan Shakespeare to conduct an independent review of public sector information (PSI) in May 2012, looking at our progress so far on opening up public data and giving his assessment on how we should best use PSI to support economic growth. The government response to the Shakespeare Review, published in June 2013, sets out our response to his recommendations.

We sought a range of views on the Open Government Partnership (OGP) UK draft National Action Plan 2013. The final version, produced in partnership with UK civil society organisations, was published in October 2013 at the OGP Summit.

The Public Administration Select Committee on statistics and open data looked at how the vast amounts of data generated by central and local government can be used to improve accountability, make government work better and strengthen the economy in Harvesting unused knowledge, empowering citizens and improving public services.

Who we’re working with

We have set up the Open Data User Group (ODUG) to review, prioritise and ask the government to release data sets that aren’t available, on behalf of people and businesses that use data.

The UK is a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and acted as lead co-chair from November 2012 to October 2013.

The Public Sector Transparency Board was established in 2010. Its purpose is to set data standards, encourage the release of more government data, and provide guidance through a set of shared public data principles. These principles show departments how to maintain inventories of data and release data based on public demand.

The International Development Sector Transparency Panel was set up by the Department for International Development (DFID) to challenge, influence and advise DFID on its approach to international development transparency.

Sector-specific boards have been set up to review what data is held and how it might be used:

  • Crime, Justice transparency panel
  • DCMS Open Data Forum
  • Defra Transparency Board
  • Health & Social Care Transparency panel
  • Local Public Data Panel
  • Research Sector Transparency Board
  • Social Mobility Transparency Board
  • Tax Transparency Sector Board
  • Transport Transparency Board