On Wednesday the Cabinet Office announced plans for a Public Data Corporation, which will be responsible for the availability of UK government data.
The Corporation will attempt to:
“…bring together Government bodies and data into one organisation and provide an unprecedented level of easily accessible public information and drive further efficiency in the delivery of public services”.
Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:
“A Public Data Corporation will bring benefits in three areas. Firstly and most importantly it will allow us to make data freely available, and where charging for data is appropriate to do so on a consistent basis. It will be a centre where developers, businesses and members of the public can access data and use it to develop internet applications, inform their business decisions or identify ways to run public services more efficiently. Some of this work is already taking place but there is huge potential to do more.
“Secondly, it will be a centre of excellence where expertise in collecting, managing, storing and distributing data can be brought together. This will enable substantial operational synergies.
“Thirdly, it can be a vehicle which will attract private investment”.
As Glyn Moody points out, this will raise concerns that some datasets will require payment and therefore not be ‘freely’ available. ‘Are we seeing the re-invention of the Ordnance Survey approach all over again?’, he asks.
I’m not so worried yet.
At the moment a lot of data is tied up in complicated licencing; for example, although the government is able to give me the Citizenship Survey Headline Findings, they cannot give me access to the raw survey data because they don’t own it directly. Therefore enabling as much data as possible to be available in the first place, and in a format that is open and linked, is a big task. I’m glad they’re tackling it.
However, I am a bit puzzled by the line ‘The Corporation will, for the first time, bring together Government bodies and data into one organisation’ (my emphasis). Is that just written badly, or do they really intend to merge all the government bodies? (If so it’s probably been all over the news and I, typically, have blissfully missed it.)
But back to the data. Maybe one day we won’t have to pay for any of it at all, but for the time being I think that this effort to bring it together is probably a laudable one.