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Osborne sets out potential of internet to produce more open, more efficient and cheaper government

By Tim Montgomerie

Osborne TINA George Osborne has just addressed the Zeitgeist conference hosted by Google. The Chancellor discussed how the internet was changing government. Here are the extracts that most interested me:

The Coalition has already given us unprecented access to data about public services: "It tells you something about the culture of secrecy in Whitehall over the past decade that Tony Blair says in his autobiography that the Freedom of Information Act was his “biggest regret” in government. I’m sure we could all think of a few things he really ought to regret more. From day one of the coalition Government, we have chosen to take a different path, and to embrace the accountability revolution enabled by the internet age. And already it seems incredible that this time last year, the British public couldn’t access even some of the most basic information needed to hold the government to account:

  • Spending data broken down on an item by item basis.
  • The contracts signed by central and local government.
  • Government procurement tender documents.
  • The salaries of senior government officials.
  • Incidents of crime in your neighbourhood, broken down on a street by street basis.
Thanks to our efforts, these government datasets – and over 6,000 others – are now freely available to be analysed, interrogated and mashed up."

Within a year Osborne promised websites will exist to answer questions like...

  • "Which is the right GP for my family?
  • How well are the different departments in my nearest hospital performing?
  • What is the quality of teaching like in my local school, broken down by subject area?
  • Was the person who broke into a car on my street ever apprehended by the police, and if so, what happened next?"

Hundreds of millions of cost savings are possible because of the internet: "It used to cost government over £10 to process a driving license application or a self-assessment tax form. Online, the cost is less than £2. Efficiencies like that are too powerful to be ignored. So if we make the most of this opportunity, there is no doubt that we can significantly reduce the cost of government. Martha Lane Fox, the Government’s Digital Champion, argues that shifting just 30% of public service contacts to digital channels has the potential to deliver annual savings of more than £1.3 billion."

The Chancellor also used the speech to explain how he was changing the default settings on key government procedures, including procurement and regulation: "Instead of government deciding whether or not to listen to the public, we’re forcing it to listen," he said and noted how experts were helping innovators to get their ideas accepted by government rather than the innovators waiting for procurement rounds. The Red Tape Challenge - recently launched by David Cameron - works in the same way. The default is deregulation with the onus on ministers to explain why regulations should remain.

> Read the full speech here and The Guardian's Andrew Sparrow has also written a summary, including the fact that 'In any given month there are over 20,000 malicious emails sent to government network".


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