Government unlocks new wave of open data

A number of government departments announced new open data commitments today, promising to publish datasets ranging from school performance to smart meter installations.

Departments including Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) all unveiled new open data strategies, making new commitments to publishing data sets online. 

For example, the Department for Education will release statistics showing where schools’ pupils end up, "showing the percentage of pupils progressing to further learning in a school, further education or sixth form college, an apprenticeship or a higher education institution," the white paper said.

DECC will provide data detailing the progress of the UK’s smart meter rollout, it revealed, while the DWP said in its open data strategy that the IT systems supporting its new Universal Credit benefits programme will "be designed from the outset with open-data consideration in mind".

The announcements coincided with a new white paper on open data from the Cabinet Office entitled "Unleashing the potential".

In its white paper, the Cabinet Office said it has made progress in persuading non-governmental organisations to open up datasets. "Our work with energy providers has resulted in major companies, including ScottishPower, committing to releasing energy usage data, making it easier for consumers to compare prices and switch companies," it claims.

While the white paper promises to open up new government data sets, open data campaigner Chris Taggart did find some cause for complaint. "The white paper is good, but we’ve noticed it doesn’t open up the core reference data," he wrote in a tweet this morning, referring to raw data published before statistical treatment.

In fact, the white paper defines ‘public data’ in its glossary as: "Anonymised, non-core-reference data on which public services are run and assessed, on which policy decisions are based, or which is collected or generated in the course of public service delivery."

Critics of the current government’s transparency strategy have argued that it favours open data, which allows it to publish only the data it wants, over Freedom of Information, which obliges it to make information available on request.

These critics include the Information Commissioner himself, who said last year: "I find it rather difficult to square all the talk about openness and transparency with a slightly grudging approach to the mechanics of the Freedom of Information Act."

There have been reports that the government wishes to introduce charges for FOI requests. Today’s white paper said the Cabinet Office will wait for the recommendations of an ongoing Justice Select Committee investigation into FOI before making any such changes.

Earlier this year, the Cabinet Office broke its own commitment to publish regular updates on the performance of government IT projects as open data.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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