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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Panel wants to loosen shackles on public info in the UK

Michael Cross, Yes, minister, it's time for the data debate, The Guardian, February 8, 2007.  Excerpt:

The government made much of its precision in identifying its useful and "unneeded" assets with the publication last month of the updated National Asset Register. Yet oddly, some of its assets - particularly the intangible ones - were overlooked: such as its huge and valuable stores of public sector information, including the Ordnance Survey's National Geographic Database. As the repository of data from which the official maps of Britain are drawn, the database must have a significant value; but you'll look in vain for its appearance in the register.

Such overlooking of valuable public sector information is the sort of thing that has frustrated the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information, which has just issued its third report. The panel was set up in 2003 "to advise ministers and officials on the opportunities for the information industry that flow from the greater use of public sector information". But are ministers listening? ...

Throughout the report, there is frustration at the low priority given by ministers to questions of public sector information. Members of the panel "have been disappointed in the past year with our inability to stimulate and secure ministerial interest", the report reveals....

The report notes several recent policy developments which may generate interest in high places. In 2009, the UK must implement the European INSPIRE directive, which requires government bodies to make geospatial information freely available. Ministers will also have to respond to the Office of Fair Trading's study into the commercial re-use of public sector information, which warned of unfair practices in the market. The advisory panel is expected to back the OFT's findings when it comments on the report.

In his introduction to the annual report, the panel's chair, Richard Susskind, notes another development: for the first time, public sector information has become "a focal point for a national newspaper". Technology Guardian's Free our Data campaign has "raised public awareness of the topic", he says....