Open data – Treasury is still interested

I went to listen to Chancellor George Osborne at the RES annual lecture on Wednesday. The text of his speech is here.

I took the opportunity to ask him about open data. There were two reasons:

  1. He didn’t mention open data (and the growth dividend that offers) when discussing other supply side changes he wanted to make to improve prosperity.
  2. It’s my view that the open data movement and all the associated promise that has been so promoted by this government is running out of steam. The failure to get data out of trading funds and some departments is a disappointment. The gifting of the nation’s addresses and postcodes to Royal Mail as part of its privatisation was the last straw.

He gave a fairly promising answer, as follows:

“I am sorry to hear your assessment. I had thought that actually we were making quite a lot of progress in getting data out of government and publicly available.

The purpose of this for those not initiated in all this is of course there are so many creative people out there and so many opportunities to create new applications using government data that can become enormously valuable tools for individuals and businesses.

If you look at what we’ve done with for example crime data, crime mapping is a widely available tool that was not previously available four or five years ago, we have launched a number of initiatives to make sure that cities publish much more data and we have also legislated to make sure – though this is not open data – that banks that turn down loans have to pass the data of those loan refusals on to other banks who might want to pick up those loans. So there has been a big push on open data. I am sorry it doesn’t go quite as far as you would like but there’s certainly no loss of appetite and I’m very open to suggestions about what more we can do. “

It is good that he sees the broad economic value of OD and seems keen to follow it up – my emboldening – but his examples of open data are thin. I do wonder if he is fully aware of what has happened in the spats between BIS and the Cabinet Office with regard to trading funds.

I should now follow up with the Treasury.

The webcast of the speech and questions are here. You can listen to my question from 45:05.

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