Monday, June 29, 2009

Cameron plans to open up information and set public data free

Conservative leader David Cameron announced the following plans to open up information in a speech at Imperial College on 25 June 2009:


We have already announced some of the ways in which we will put information - and thereby power - in people's hands.

We will publish every item of government spending over £25,000.

It will all be there for an army of armchair auditors to go through, line by line, pound by pound, to hold wasteful government to account.

We will require the publication of crime data online in an open way so that communities can build their own crime maps, see what crimes are being committed, where and at what time and hold their local police to account if they're not doing something about it. And we will require all local councils to publish information like meeting minutes and local service data in a standardised format.

This will give people the power to hold local government to account, and to develop new public services like a local version of TheyWorkForYou, or Bebo applications that tell teenagers when the local sports centre is open as well as the power to see which councils are providing the best value for money, so residents can demand the same from their own. But today we're announcing further steps towards true freedom of information.


In Britain today, there are over 100,000 public bodies producing a huge amount of information.

This ranges from school league tables to train timetables; from health outcomes to public sector job vacancies. Most of this information is kept locked up by the state. And what is published is mostly released in formats that mean the information can't be searched or used with other applications, like online maps. his stands in the way of accountability.

Let me give you just two examples.

Today, many central government and quango job adverts are placed in a select few newspapers.

Some national, some regional. Some daily, some weekly.

But all of them in a variety of different publications - meaning it's almost impossible to find out how many vacancies there are across the public sector, what kind of salaries are being offered, how these vary from public sector body to public sector body and whether functions are being duplicated.

Remember this is your money being put forward to give someone a job - and you have little way of finding out why, what for and for how much.

Now imagine if they were all published online and in a standardised way. Not only could you find out about vacancies for yourself, you could cross-reference what jobs are on offer and make sure your money is being put to proper use. Or what about patient outcomes in the NHS?

Some of the most important information you'll ever need to know, how long your Dad will survive if he gets cancer, your chances of a good life if you have a stroke, all this is out of your hands.

Now, again, imagine if this information was in your hands. You'd be able to compare your local hospital with others, and do something about it if it wasn't good enough.

Choose another hospital. Voice your complaint to a patient group. Make change happen.
All this data which would help people in this country hold the powerful to account - it's all locked away in some vault. And it's only getting worse.

Next week Ed Balls will publish proposals for a new report card, replacing league tables. That will reduce the amount of information being published, and reduce parent power to hold their school to account.

We're going to set this data free. In the first year of the next Conservative Government, we will find the most useful information in twenty different areas ranging from information about the NHS to information about schools and road traffic and publish it so people can use it.

This information will be published proactively and regularly - and in a standardised format so that it can be 'mashed up' and interacted with.

What's more, because there is no complete list that can tell us exactly what data the government collects, we will create a new 'right to data' so that further datasets can be requested by the public.

By harnessing the wisdom of the crowd, we can find out what information individuals think will be important in holding the state to account.

And to avoid bureaucrats blocking these requests, we will introduce a rule that any request will be successful unless it can be proved that it would lead to overwhelming costs or demonstrable personal privacy or national security concerns.

If we are serious about helping people exert more power over the state, we need to give them the information to do it. And as part of that process, we will review the role of the Information Commissioner to make sure that it is designed to maximise political accountability in our country.
Read the full speech here.

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