Government increases focus on data transparency

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Yesterday (22 January) the Cabinet office announced the appointment of Tim Kelsey as the new executive director for Transparency and Open Data within the Efficiency and Reform Group.

Kelsey, who has been dubbed the government’s ‘transparency tsar’, was the brains behind Dr Foster, the organisation that transformed transparency in the NHS, and designed NHS Choices, the national health information service. Previous to this appointment, he had been leading on transparency in ERG on secondment from management consultants McKinsey & Co.

With the economic crisis very much front of minds and the ghost of the expenses scandal looming in the shadows, the Efficiency Reform Group (ERG) was set up both to make government more efficient and so save money, and to increase government accountability.

According to The Financial Times, Kensey has been “charged with a fresh push to open up data on Britain’s public services – in particular, education, health and social care” by the government – a move that I imagine will be much welcomed by a sceptical public, who are keen to see that they are not the only ones having to make financial compromises for the sake of the cuts.

But it is not the Government’s only commitment to data transparency. In November it launched the Midata initiative, which aims to give consumers increased access to their data in collaboration with British businesses.

The scheme aims to address privacy fears by alerting consumers to what information is held on them, and it may also ultimately offer better services for shoppers looking for value from their transactions. Individuals will be able to use their own data to gain insights into their own behaviour and so make more informed choices about products and services.

Twenty-six companies and organisations have already signed up for the scheme including British Gas, EDF Energy MoneySupermarket, Callcredit Group, Google, and MasterCard.

For the Government, this apparent commitment to data transparency and allowing individuals to regain their data, chimes nicely with the Big Society ethos of putting the power in the hands of the people. There is no doubt that greater transparency in government will be popular with the public, but whether it will be enough to help retain the Coalition majority partner’s five-point lead over Labour, only the polls will tell.

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