Conservative Diary

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The government information and data being opened up to public scrutiny

Yesterday we covered how the theme of transparency was highlighted by David Cameron in his first Prime Ministerial podcast.

Today more details are emerging of how this principle will be put into action as plans are announced for publishing specific government data online, including:

  • The names and salary of all civil servants earning more than £150,000 per year (from tomorrow)
  • Details of all government contracts over £10,000 (from September)
  • Any items of central government expenditure  over £25,000 (from November)
  • Any item of local government expenditure over £500 (from January)
  • Hospital-by-hospital data covering the last three months on the number of cases of MRSA and C.Difficile infection (from this week), with weekly statistics to follow (from July)
  • Street level crime data (from January)

Mr Cameron has written to all government departments, emphasising that greater transparency "is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account."

In time, it is hard not to see the presumption becoming that all information and data collated by the government should automatically be published.

But for now, which other data should be prioritised for online publication and scrutiny?

I suspect we should pay particular attention to the kinds of things which civil servants (through ministers) have historically managed to avoid publishing, when asked through written parliamentary questions, by claiming that such information could only be gathered at "disproportionate cost".

The man to lobby is Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who writes in the Telegraph:

"I will chair a new Transparency Board, which will include experts, including perhaps the Government’s greatest critic when it comes to transparency, Tom Steinberg. Based at the heart of government in the Cabinet Office, we’ll be listening to what the public want and making sure they get the information they ask for wherever humanly possible. And we’ll be working with other departments to develop the public’s legal right to data. We’ll make the changes happen here in central government, and we’ll be expecting to see them across the rest of the public sector too."

Jonathan Isaby


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