Opening Government with Open Data

With London hosting the third summit of the Open Government Partnership last week, here’s a look at three ways that the UK Government has committed itself to open data and open government.  

1. Open Energy Data

A number of government departments and public sector organisations have partnered with EcoDriver to display their energy usage via real-time consumption dashboards. Participants include:

  • Office for National Statistics
  • Department for Transport
  • Home Office
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Department for International Development
  • NHS Rochford Hospital
  • Peterborough City Council

The ability to switch between kWh, cost and carbon emissions really helps to make the link between these three vital pieces of energy information.

With energy bills never far from the headlines it’s important that the Government continues to push for this level of data being open and transparent so that the public know what public institutions cost the budget and the planet.

2. Government Spending Tool

Financial insight is always paramount, which is why GIST – the Government Interrogating Spending Tool – is so important. GIST provides a departmental breakdown of how taxpayers’ money is being spent, for example:

  • The Ministry of Defence has a budget of £10.3 billion, of which £2.8 billion is used to pay wages
  •  The Department of Transport spends about £15 million on lighthouses
  • The Scottish Government’s budget is £7.4 billion while the Welsh Government’s is £3.6 billion (which means that Scotland has a bigger budget per capita than Wales)

While the public might not always like where their money is going and while grey areas still remain, GIST is certainly a commendable start and (as far as I’m aware) is not something that other countries have implemented.

3. Civil Servant Salaries

With amee about to launch much more comprehensive coverage of director information about UK companies, it’s interesting to consider what the Government is saying about its own directors.

The data.gov website now has a breakdown of salary information for all the directors across all departments – the most senior of which are named. That means you can now find out, for example, the salary of the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor (£170k).

There’s certainly no hiding in the senior civil service and this brings a level of transparency that some private sector directors would probably find mildly frightening.

Still, after the public anger that politicians faced in 2009 following the parliamentary expenses scandal, greater scrutiny of civil servant salaries seems to have been the next target on the transparency agenda.

Ending Company Secrecy

Of course there’s much more that the UK Government needs to do to fulfil its promise of being the most open and transparent government ever.

An example of this is the lack of detail about the financial arrangements for the new wave of nuclear power stations. Another is the unknown cost incurred by the so-called ‘immigration van’.

Nevertheless, the three examples in this post suggest that the Government is on the right track.

David Cameron’s announcement on Wednesday that the UK will support the creation of a public register about corporate ownership is another example important example. After all, it’s in the public interest to end company secrecy.

As a company firmly committed to open data, amee believes that the Government must continue to set an example to the private sector as to how transparency can help to increase trust and reduce risk.  

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