Delayed again!

The Cabinet Office is 11 months behind publishing its spending data

By Stephen Branley, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13971461

Failing to publishing a few csv files does might not seem to be of much consequence when considering the challenges of running a Government, but actually it matters a great deal.

According to the Cabinet Office Minister responsible for transparency, this Government is committed as ever to being open and transparent, but it seems remarkably resistant to publishing this data. The Cabinet Office have even rejected our Freedom of Information requests to access the data (our complaint to the ICO is pending).

This is vitally important because, once a Government makes a commitment, it must match deeds with words for it to have the desired impact. If the Cabinet Office treats opening data as something that it will ‘get around to eventually’, this has a knock on effect on open data throughout Government:

  • If the Department responsible for transparency can not maintain its own standards, there’s little chance that other publishers will maintain the effort required to publish all sorts of open data.
  • Staff in other Departments have told us that their attempts to improve spending data are being stymied by officials using the Cabinet Office’s non-publication as the justification by insisting this proves that spending data is ‘no longer a priority’.
  • It makes open data look like a flash in a pan, something that Governments only adopts as and when it suits it.
  • It shows that FOI isn’t working and that other public bodies can use the Act’s limited exemptions to circumvent access to data.
  • It shows that the Government is inept: how can we have confidence it can meet deadlines for poverty reduction or infrastructure development if it struggles to publish a few csv files on time?

A lackadaisical approach to open data threatens much more than the image of a Government, it stops us believing in open data, which means fewer new jobs, fewer startups and fewer attempts to understand what is really happening in our government. Instead we get a sneaky attitude to FOI and the old, high-handed style of Government that suggests that how it spends money is not important to the people who fund it.

Update: The Cabinet Office eventually published this data 13 months late. You can view it here.

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