Local government open data drive is behind schedule

The UK government’s plan to improve local government transparency through open data is well behind schedule.

In June 2010, communities secretary Eric Pickles called on local councils to make details of all spending worth over £500 openly available online by January 2011. However, at least 150 of the 434 councils in the UK have so far failed to do so.

Yesterday, Pickles said he is putting the remaining councils “on one weeks’ notice. The final countdown for councils has begun,” he said.

One local authority that has yet to publish its spending data online is Bradford Council. In an interview with local newspaper The Telegraph and Argus, council leader Ian Greenwood said it was making sure any information that might disadvantage Bradford businesses was removed from the data before publication.

“I’m prepared to suffer the political embarrassment of defying the order to publish the bills to protect the interests of Bradford businesses,” he said.

Today, the Telegraph and Argus quotes a “source close to Mr. Pickles” as saying that councils that refuse to comply will face legal consequences. “There will be legal ramifications facing councils who do not do this,” they reportedly said.

While the government itself admits that 150 councils have failed to publish spending data at all, others argue that many more have not upheld the principles of open data.

According to local government data aggregation site OpenlyLocal, only 47 of the 434 councils publish “fully” open data. This means that data must be published “with a licence that explictly allows free and open reuse, including commercial reuse, and at the most applies share-alike and attribution restrictions to the data”.

In October 2010, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude remarked that some councils had intentionally made their spending data difficult to access. "I’m sorry to say that some councils spend time and money deliberately making data unusable to anyone else,” he said at the time.

Many of the UK government’s IT-related reforms are currently behind schedule. For example, the Cabinet Office has said that it plans to “publish guidance that ICT projects should not exceed £100 million in total value”. However, two deals worth over £100 million have been signed since the present government came to power.

Also behind schedule is the plan to introduce an “IT skunkworks” for the public sector, an independent taskforce that seeks opportunities for rapid innovation.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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