Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to remove the "cloak of secrecy" from government by extending public access to data including Whitehall spending figures, street-by-street crime rates and hospital MRSA infection statistics.
Cameron believes greater transparency will help to reduce the UK’s budget deficit – approximately £5.5 billion at present – by making areas of waste and overspend visible to taxpayers, while enhancing public trust and engagement in politics.
"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," he wrote in a letter to the secretaries of state. "The government must set new standards for transparency."
The Tory leader set specific deadlines for certain transparency initiatives. Later this month, the COINS database, which details all government spending, will be available online and in July, all government IT contracts will be publically available. Later this year, various classes of tender documents will be published. Hospitals will begin publishing rates of MSRA infections from this week, while detailed breakdowns of street-by-street crime data will be available online from January next year.
Public access to government data is a cause that all parties have championed. The previous Labour government made datasets including crime and birth rates and environmental metrics available via the data.gov.uk site, while London’s Conservative mayor Boris Johnson oversaw the creation of an equivalent for the capital, data.london.gov.uk.