Check against delivery
I’m pleased to have this opportunity to talk to you today, about what I believe will one day be the defining characteristic of future public policy in nations across the world –
This would have been a wild statement to make twenty or even ten years ago.
Transparency was something politicians only used to embrace in Opposition. Or at most in their first twelve months of Government, when they were just exposing their predecessor’s failings. After that enthusiasm would fade.
Traditionally Governments of every time and place haven’t liked releasing information that would let people know exactly what they were up to.
However in the last twenty years something momentous has occurred - the World has opened up. Advances in technology have made data the privilege of the many rather than the few.
And data is a resource – the new raw material of the 21st Century. Its value is in holding Governments to account; creating choices and efficiencies in public services; and inspiring innovation and enterprise that drives growth.
My Government is committed to transparency – it is at the heart of our reforming agenda in the UK-
-And as the current lead chair of the international Open Government Partnership we are promoting transparency as a means to fight corruption and drive prosperity all over the world.
South Africa is of course one of the founding members of the OGP, like the UK, and is a dedicated and active member of the OGP’s Steering Committee; you play a central role in promoting transparency across the rest of Africa.
South Africa recently ranked second for the transparency and accountability of its budget processes, in the latest Open Budget Index Survey - just ahead of the UK in third. I’m certain that our two countries have much to learn from each other – and much to share with the rest of the world.
And I hope today I can provide you with some useful insights into how the UK Government is pushing transparency and Open Data as part of our reforming agenda. And I will also outline our vision for the OGP; what we’re hoping to achieve as chair in these coming months and why we’ll need your support.
But firstly I’d like to give you a bit of context and explain why this agenda is so important to my country.
The UK Government is a reforming Government – by choice and necessity.
Like many nations we are facing huge economic challenges today.
The UK experienced the biggest increase in debt of any major economy in the last decade.
When we came into power the state was spending £4 for every £3 in revenue. The Government was having to borrow £1 in every £4 just to keep the lights on, the pensions paid, teachers in schools, doctors and nurses in hospitals.
Our immediate priority was to tackle the deficit we’d inherited – and earn back Britain’s financial credibility. Three years on and we have made significant progress at putting the nation’s finances on a more stable footing - cutting the deficit by a third.
As a result budgets are tight, and will continue to be tight, across our public sector and there is unprecedented pressure to make the right choices about how public money is spent.
In response, we are implementing a radical programme of economic and public service reform – based on a tight-loose model of Government. This means on one hand you have tight central control over key areas of public spend like procurement, IT, property and marketing – to ensure you drive down costs and get the best value for money.
Make no mistake – implementing tight spending controls across Government hasn’t been easy. But it’s delivering – real cashable efficiencies. In our first ten months in office we saved what was then an unprecedented £3.75 billion from central Government spend. And in the 2011-12 financial year we saved a further £5.5 billion. By 2015 we want to be saving in the order of £20billion a year.
But this is only one half of our agenda – we want to build public services that are cheaper – yes. But also better, more innovative and more catered to the user’s needs.
This means for other areas we are devolving power – the loose part of the model. We are breaking down the traditional central monopoly on providing public services and bringing in more flexibility and choice for users, and more local control over the way they are run.
That means allowing charities, social enterprises, private companies and employee-owned co-operatives to compete to offer people high quality services.
In Britain all of this is a huge change to the way things have been done in the past. And in order for us to deliver the scale of efficiency and reform we need – the whole organisation of Government needs to change too.
Last summer I published a Civil Service Reform Plan that sets out how our Civil Service will become smaller, flatter, faster, more focused on outcome not process, more digital, more unified, more accountable for delivery, more capable, better managed with better performance management and, finally, more fun to work for.
This won’t happen all at once but we are already implementing a number of actions to create a 21st Century Civil Service. For example at the moment despite over 80% of our population being online – people tend to interact with Government on paper, on the phone, or in person, at less convenience to them and more expense to us.
Why? Because our online services are generally either not good enough or non-existent. But this is changing. We are implementing a digital by default agenda that will make it easier for people to do things like pay their car tax, book driving tests, complete tax returns, or apply for their state pension online. And this digital transformation will also generate billions of savings for the taxpayer.
All of these reforms have a running theme: a willingness to embrace new ideas and radical ways of working that put the citizen first. Whether that’s rooting out inefficiencies to save taxpayer money; or encouraging public sector workers to spin out and create their own employee-owned services; or creating more convenient online services.
And underpinning our reforming agenda - is an overriding commitment to transparency.
This has three important benefits. Firstly, transparency drives efficient and accountable Government-
When we first came into office there were huge gaps public spending data. Despite our best efforts, no one could accurately tell us where the money was going -
-And it turned out we were losing billions of pounds to debt, fraud and error every year. We weren’t buying efficiently – consistently handing out gold-plated contracts to big suppliers and shutting out smaller but cost-effective firms. And far too much cash was being thrown away on ill-thought out IT projects, unnecessary consultants and frivolous advertising.
The collection of good quality, accurate, comparable data is now a priority across Government - and we are consistently exposing this data to the light of day.
We have started a regular publication of central department spending data over £25,000 and local government spending over £500. This ensures government, and the way it spends tax money, can be held to account on a day to day basis - not just at election time.
We also publish Quarterly Data Summaries that give a snapshot of how each of our departments is spending its budget, the results it has achieved and how it is deploying its workforce.
Collecting this Management Information – and using it – is extremely important. Resources for our public services will continue to be tight – and we need to clearly see where public money is going and what impact it has, so we can make the right decisions for the future.
Secondly, by exposing what is inadequate – transparency can also drive improvement in public services-
-For example a few years ago a heart surgeon Sir Bruce Keogh made history when he persuaded his colleagues to publish comparable data on their individual clinical outcomes – a global first.
Seven years later dramatic improvements in survival rates were reported – with more than a third of patients living when they might have previously expected to have died in some procedures.
This bold act of professional transparency simply transformed the results of heart surgery in the UK.
Over the last three years my Government has committed to releasing more and more public data to give our citizens real choice over their public services for the first time-
-Our web portal Data.gov.uk is the largest data resource in the world with over 40,000 data files.
People can scrutinise their local crime statistics; they can compare GP practice performance in handling cancer cases; parents can judge how successful particular schools and colleges are at advancing pupils on to further learning.
Thirdly, transparency drives economic and social growth; by opening up data, that would previously been left under-analysed and under-used, to a new generation of innovative data entrepreneurs.
For example in the UK we are releasing prescribing data by GP practise, which is proving of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry and data and analytics companies working with health data.
We are also helping to improve medical knowledge and practice with world-first linked-data services which will enable healthcare impacts to be tracked across the entire Health Service.
And we are releasing real-time train and bus information to support the development of innovative applications to improve passenger journeys.
And companies large and small are using this data to create innovative, products and applications.
For example a small UK-based firm started using live data from local councils to help drivers identify free car parking spaces. The firm called Parkopedia have grown to become the world’s leading source of parking information covering more than 20 million spaces in 25 countries.
So transparency is not just a grand sounding theory that is, in practise, academic. It really makes a difference in all kinds of ways – from saving lives, to improving public services, to simply making life more convenient.
And across the world transparency is having a huge impact in all kind of ways.
In Mongolia they now publish all their mining contracts that were previously siphoned into the offshore bank accounts of a mafia clique. The result has been increasing investment in education and health.
To support citizen engagement, the Budget department of the Philippine government has committed to releasing a yearly “People’s Budget”, a summarized and layman version of the National Budget and the national budget process.
In Tanzania the government has created a web-based water point mapping system for local government to help them provide better services to their citizens.
And here in South Africa I know you are taking forward a number of commitments:
-Such as enhancing the role of civil society organisations in the budgetary process;
-Developing a Citizen Participation guideline that would ensure that every public sector department had a strong citizen engagement unit for proactively engaging with civil society groups;
-And establishing Service Delivery Improvement Forums where citizens can provide report cards on public service delivery for areas like primary health care, water, sanitation, environmental management.
South Africa is of course absolutely central to the transparency agenda across Africa. I understand one of your priorities as Chair of the Kimberley Process to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, is to improve the transparency of the processes regulating conflict diamonds. This is hugely important work.
One of the UK’s ambitions during its time as chair of the Open Government Partnership is to showcase to the world how transparency and participation drive economic growth, well-being and prosperity.
That means sharing stories of success like these – and also importing and exporting our transparency techniques, lessons learnt and best practise to every corner of the globe.
We’re at the beginning of a global movement towards transparency, you can see many positive examples around the world – but of course there is no room for complacency.
In the year since its launch the OGP has made big strides with 58 members signed up – and of those 46 have published ambitious action plans setting out transparency commitments; and many of the rest will be joining us in London later this month to present their new plans to the OGP Steering Committee.
But after all the enthusiasm and rhetoric of the first year - we’ve got to turn words into action. Otherwise we risk just being a talking shop – where Governments pat themselves on the back for making grand-sounding commitments.
The success or failure of the OGP does not of course hinge on pushing Governments into making big promises on transparency – it hinges on whether they will deliver on their promises.
Genuine transparency will always demand external scrutiny.
And the OGP’s value will lie in supporting domestic reformers within and outside of government to promote transparency - providing them with a lever to help ensure that their voices are amplified and heard at the highest levels.
The loudest voices for transparency have long come from civil society organisations. The involvement of leading Civil Society groups in the OGP is what gives it authority.
But this involvement must translate into something tangible.
This is why the key priority for the UK during our time as Chair is to establish an Independent Reporting Mechanism that will give civil society groups the platform to provide real third party scrutiny to Governments.
This work will be driven by an independent Expert Panel, led as you know by Graca Machel, the former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Sudanese-born entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim.
We expect the first IRM reports on the 8 founding countries for the OGP – including the UK and South Africa– to be published at our plenary in October next year.
This is a crucial step -
-And it’s important the UK, South Africa and other leading nations really lead by example.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that South Africa makes the OGP a stronger organisation by its membership particularly in the light of your important regional leadership role and as a member of BRICs. Your outreach efforts in particular will continue to be vital.
And by working together and being ambitious - we can establish the OGP as a really credible international organisation that genuinely makes Governments better–
-One that countries around the world will aspire to join-
-And member countries feel compelled to deliver against their action plans.
Of course no one can claim that transparency is easy for Governments – it isn’t. It’s tricky, difficult and often uncomfortable – but it also sticks, once you start you can’t go back.
And with all the challenges we face today – economic challenges, security challenges, climate change – we will increasingly rely on transparency and data sharing to make us more informed, more agile, more efficient.
But as I’ve set out today: the prize for pursuing transparency will be effective, personalised, 21st century democracy; stronger, more sustainable economies and better public services for our citizens. That’s why - the future is Open.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Jon Super.