Friday, 30 July 2010

Let's get granular! A push towards transparency

The Coalition wants to see local authorities publish their spending data on a 'granular' level, and they recently - in June 2010 - set up the Public Sector Transparency Board (PSTB) to push this ahead. The Board's remit is to:
  • make the transparency agenda a core part of all government business
  • ensure that Whitehall departments meet new deadlines set for releasing key public datasets
  • set up open data standards across the whole public sector
The Prime Minister wants local authorities to publish every single item of spend over £500, and in practice this will happen online. David Cameron has already written to Government departments about this.

The push to publish data is from January 2011 onwards, and we know that transparency is a key plank of the Coalition Government's Big Society agenda. Data on salaries is already in the public domain.

Who is already publishing spend data?

Coalition Watch knows that some local authorities are already publishing their spend data online, and so far we have identified 17 authorities who are doing this. They commonly produce this as 'Payments to suppliers', listing every item of expenditure by organisation and overall cost.

Councils are certainly not following a single set of criteria, and data is frequently published in either PDF or Excel formats - sometimes both. In a very few cases we found data uploaded as CSV files. Splitting hairs perhaps, but this may not be exactly what the PSTB is calling for. They say:

'Publishing raw data quickly is an immediate priority, but in the medium term local authorities should work towards structured, regularly updated data published on the Web using open standards.'

Can Excel or PDF really be described as 'open'? Both are proprietary formats, though it is likely that there will be more standardisation over time. Open formats ensure accessiblity and creative applications.

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