No 10 orders data release

By Alex Stevenson

Swathes of government data are to be made public under what Downing Street claims is a historic shift in approach.

Senior civil service salaries, hospital-by-hospital infection data for superbugs like MRSA and crime data are among the areas where the information is set to be made public for the first time.

The launch of the agenda comes in a letter sent by prime minister David Cameron to secretaries of state across Whitehall today.

“Greater transparency across government is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account; to reduce the deficit and deliver better value for money in public spending; and to realise significant economic benefits by enabling businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites using public data,” Mr Cameron wrote.

“The government must set new standards for transparency.”

Under the proposals historic spending data will be published, enabling members of the public to scrutinise the Labour government’s spending record.

All new central government information and communications technology contracts will be published online from July. Tender documents for contracts worth over £10,000 will be made available, while new items of central government spending worth over £25,000 will be published.

Mr Cameron proposes forcing all local government spending over £500 to be published on a council-by-council basis from the start of next year.

MySociety founder Tom Steinberg has been appointed to advise the government on the development of the new agenda, which will be supervised by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

“Our drive for transparency is at the heart of what this government is about,” Mr Maude said.

“It’s about cutting waste; it’s about driving improvement and accountability in public services; and it’s about boosting the economy by enabling entrepreneurs to use public data to create new applications.

“Above all, it is about a shift of power from the state and a fundamental trust in the ability of people to work together to transform our society.”

Releasing government data was begun under Gordon Brown’s premiership alongside the establishment of an Institute for Web Science.

Its open linked data initiative, which could help drive through the changes Mr Cameron seeks, faces cutbacks, however.

These may be reversed following today’s announcement. Government research by Cambridge University’s Rufus Pollock found the plans for more open data could create an extra £6 billion “in additional value” for Britain.