Meeting notes 12th April 2016

#ogpuk: Notes from Manchester workshop

by Tim Hughes

Tim is coordinator of the UK Open Government Network.

Date: 24 March, 14:00 to 17:00
Venue: The Shed, Chester Street, Manchester, M1 5GD

Introduction

On 24 March 2016, the UK Open Government Network and Cabinet Office co-hosted a workshop in Manchester to discuss progress on the 2016-18 National Action Plan and ideas for future commitments.

Open Government Manifesto proposals

For further information on the proposals discussed see: http://www.opengovernment.org.uk/engage/open-government-manifesto/

Access to information

Government commissioned / funded research

  • Presently it is not possible to build a picture of who is getting research contracts. Government is already looking at this.
  • Being able to use the data is vital. The XML format used by The National Archives was recommended. Often, however, government publishes information in PDF format; it is then difficult to, for example, compare draft and final versions.
  • Concern was expressed about the so-called ‘Anti-Lobbying Clause’ which was considered to stop charities and academics advocacy.
  • Some loopholes in FoI have been filled, eg Network Rail are now in scope. However, where information is provided sometimes it is not what was asked for, and sometimes the information provided should not have been disclosed. Government is looking at a commitment for NAP 3 taking forward recommendations from the FoI Commission, including an update to the FoI Code of Practice.

Information integrity

  • It was felt that gov.uk should be a more canonical source, and appear higher in search engine rankings. However, it is not easy to find documents on gov.uk
  • Government websites should automatically be archived.

Data privacy

  • There was concern that personal health data is being shared with private companies. Although data sharing can potentially have good outcomes, eg integration of NHS and social care, safeguards are needed.
  • There should be one central data set with potential access by all parts of government. Citizens could in principle agree in advance which parts of government could access their data and should be able to see which part had accessed their data.
  • The ‘Tell us once’ service when a relative dies is in principle good, but there were questions about whether it respects the wishes of the deceased person about data sharing after death. This principle should also be applied to setting up a business – presently there are 273 pages of government advice.

Civic participation

Consultation practice / Opening up policy making

  • It is not always clear when communication is consultation, engagement or providing information.
  • Consultation doesn’t work because those consulted are often ignored. Consultation only works if government (local or national) wants to listen.
  • Local authorities are outsourcing consultation and the contractors do not know the local area.
  • Marketing could help to highlight more opportunities for people to engage with policy making, eg getting GPs to tell people about consultations.
  • If there was more capacity building by government to develop ‘smart citizens’ more people would engage in the policy process. More should be done at school level, eg citizenship classes in schools and education on what democracy means.
  • If was felt there is a lack of engagement between government and BME groups.
  • People want impartial information. In Switzerland the government pays for booklets to be sent to every house to inform people about key topics.

Open local government

  1. Participatory and engagement frameworks for devolution
  • The view was expressed that citizens have no say on the transfer of power from Westminster to the regions and their views are ignored, eg a referendum indicated a majority did not want a Mayor in Manchester.
  • Public meetings run by local authorities are often meetings in which the public can’t participate. Devolution is as an opportunity to trial at local level better mechanisms for local democracy.
  • Some councils are trying to carry out more engagement around devolution than others.
  1. Open local government partnership
  • Some local authorities are more open than others. It would be good to have a platform to showcase successes where local government has become more open.
  • LGA involvement would be beneficial so all councils adopt good practice.
  • Clear support from central government would be good, but the drive for openness has to start at the top in each local authority, ie the chief executive, corporate director, etc, working with local civil society.
  • We can learn from other countries in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in terms of local government.

Public accountability

Open budgets

  • Some thought that although government is getting better at releasing expenditure, but there is no transparency in setting the budget.
  • The media like it when civil society criticizes government, but there is no story when civil society likes what government is doing.

Future engagement

Possible ideas to maintain engagement on open government:

  • Try to reach out to people on Reddit.
  • More open meetings such as the one today in Manchester. However, it was noted that those in full-time work would not be able to participate.

What’s missing from the NAP?

  • Some felt that a weakness of the OGP process is that the focus is on specific commitments over two years rather than culture, which is not measurable in the same way.
  • Commitments on anti-corruption need to include who is behind the activity. For example, property purchases can be undertaken in the name of one family member for the benefit of another.
  • The civil service leadership statement does not mention openness.
  • The OGP should also look to engage MPs, as it was felt MPs may be more supportive than civil servants.
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