Meeting notes 5th December 2012

Extending the principles of openness and transparency

by Tim Hughes

Tim is coordinator of the UK Open Government Network.

Next Thursday (13 December, 1230-1400), the UK OGP civil society network and Cabinet Office Transparency Team will be holding the second session in the series on the content of the UK’s next open government National Action Plan. The session will take place at the (newly launched) Open Data Institute and will be on the priority area of: “Extending the principles of openness and transparency”. This includes the policy areas of open data, freedom of information and lobbying.

More details on the types of issues and policies that the session will cover can be found below. If you would like to attend or have any questions, please get in touch via: tim@involve.org.uk

To recap…

On 15 November, members of the Cabinet Office Transparency Team and the civil society network met to scope out the areas of the UK’s next open government National Action Plan. Four areas were identified based on the UK Government’s priorities and the civil society network’s vision for the Open Government Partnership:

  • Extending the principles of openness and transparency
  • Moving forward the global agenda on openness and transparency
  • Participation and open policy making
  • Anti-corruption

Over the coming weeks, a session will be on each of these areas in turn to begin discussions with relevant policy makers regarding the policies and commitments that could be included under each. A schedule of these meetings can be found on the Open Government Partnership UK website.

Extending the principles of openness and transparency

To give an idea of the types of issues and policies that the session will cover, here’s the relevant section from a document drafted after the 15 November session, which sets out some examples of policies and issues that the civil society network would like to consider under each of the themes:

Priority 1: Extending the principles of openness and transparency

The public must be provided with easy access to accurate, credible, high value information in a format that can be easily read and understood, so as to ensure that key actors across the public, private and voluntary sectors can be held to account.

Below we outline some key areas where progress can and needs to be made:

  • The principles of transparency and openness to apply across all sectors to organisations providing public services, including public authorities, arms length bodies and contractors. All data and information about  public services and the way decisions about them are taken should be accessible, either through proactive publication or in response to requests.
    • Open data requirements should apply to any organisation delivering public services.
    • The Freedom of Information Act, which provides a means for understanding and setting open data in context, should also apply to any organisation delivering public services.
    • Loopholes in the Freedom of Information Act should be closed. For example, access to information about services delivered by contractors is limited and variable, depending on the precise terms of each contract.  Also, some information about public services cannot be obtained because the FOI right of access is overridden by restrictions on disclosure in other legislation.
    • Loopholes in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which protects whistleblowing, should be closed. For example, protection of workers should be widened to include comprehensive protection for all GPs, NEDs, LLP members, partners, foster, carers, and student nurses.  The categories of wrongdoing should be widened to include gross waste, gross mismanagement and abuse of authority (covered by US protection).  The good faith test should be removed from the act as it can act as a barrier to honest and genuine whistleblowers.  Vicarious liability should exist within the act as there is no protection for workers bullied and harassed by co-workers.  There should be protection for blacklisting or where a whistleblower is denied a job where whistleblowing history is revealed.  There should be greater transparency and regulatory oversight of 70% of whistleblowing claims that settle in private.  The tribunal should have the power in the event of a successful claim to make recommendations on how the wrongdoing should be addressed or on how an organisation improves their response to whistleblowing.  Claims under the act should be exempt from the tribunal fees regime that could see a whistleblower who is victimised for exposing wrongdoing pay £1200 to seek legal redress.
    • There should be increased obligations on the private sector to publish data and information covering their activities and social and environmental impacts, including that relating to CSR and corporate hierarchies.
  • A comprehensive approach to opening data, including the use of technical standards, open licenses, culture change and capacity building. The ‘five-stars of open data engagement’ drafted at the UKGovCamp should be adopted alongside Tim Berners-Lee’s five-stars of open linked data to provide a framework for this. The five stars of engagement call for: data release to be demand driven; data to be put in context; publishers to support conversations around datasets; support for building capacity, skills and networks; and collaboration around data as a common resource (See http://opendataimpacts.net/engagement/). Within this framework, it will be important to ensure that open data are, themselves, transparent. Good practice in harvesting, aggregating, managing, publishing and preserving data should be standardised to ensure that users can access data over the long term and validate them against reliable evidentiary sources.
  • A statutory lobbying register that applies across the board, including in-house corporate lobbying. This must be an effective measure and must not impede citizen participation in policy making. The register should apply to lobbying of the UK Government, Parliament, devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies. It should apply to organisations/individuals who engage in lobbying either as self-employed individuals, as employees of an organization or on behalf of third parties.
  • A presumption that all information published or released by public authorities, where they are the copyright holder, is automatically available for reuse without the need for separate copyright permission.
  • A plan for core reference data sold by trading funds to be brought into the Government’s open data strategy.
  • Government to publish the data it holds on companies, including that held by Companies House, and where necessary broaden the data it collects, for example on nominee directors and shareholders (whether they are nominees and who they are acting on behalf of) and beneficial owners.
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