Meeting notes 6th May 2016

#ogpuk: Newcastle workshop notes

by Tim Hughes

Tim is coordinator of the UK Open Government Network.

Date: Thursday, 13 April 2016 from 15:00 to 17:30
Venue: Broadacre House, Market Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 6HQ

Introduction

On 13 April 2016, the UK Open Government Network hosted a workshop in Newcastle to discuss progress on the 2016-18 National Action Plan and ideas for future commitments.

Open contracting

  • Tim explained that the OGN was advocating for Freedom of Information to be extended to private providers of public services. Often when information is requested it is classed as information held by the contractors for their own purposes and commercial confidentiality is used as an excuse not to release it.
  • Participants mentioned that charities are sometimes being asked to deliver public contracts, but it can be difficult and unworkable for charities to win those contracts.
  • Tim agreed, but suggested that better data might be able to help charities challenge this as analysis could be done of where government money was going and myths about government contracting challenged.  Tim mentioned that another element was involving service users in defining the contracts as well.

Beneficial ownership transparency

  • Tim explained that one of the big set of reforms the OGN was pushing for is transparency of who owns and benefits from companies
  • Participants agreed that this was important, particularly from an anti-corruption point of view. A question was raised whether other countries were looking at beneficial ownership registers as well so there could be some form of knowledge exchange. Tim explained that there were international initiatives to share information, but that many registers will be kept closed.
  • Participants agreed that sharing open data is important but mentioned that it was often whistleblowers who brought issues to light (e.g. Panama Papers, LuxLeaks and Snowdon). Tim agreed that a big element of open government was protecting whistleblowers.

Open data

  • Tim introduced the OGN’s proposals on open data that were being discussed with the government, to open up core data sets, better engage data users, and increase the quality of data by improving government’s data use of it
  • Participants mentioned that the data would need to be presented in a readable format and that the licence should be as open as possible.  
  • It was suggested that public authorities would release data if they could see the value in it.  More work needs to be done to make the case for spending resources on it.
  • Participants were concerned about government plans to privatise the land registry. Tim mentioned that the OGN was preparing a submission to the consultation and invited participants to get involved.
  • Participants agreed that there needs to be more support for charities and civil society to use open data.
  • Data needs to be made accessible to everyone. The raw data needs to be available for those who can use it, but graphics and visualisations need to be made for the public to understand.
  • It was suggested that central government had an important role to play in defining standards and formats, so data released by local authorities could be combined and compared.

Civic engagement

  • Participants asked about consultation practice in local government. Tim responded that there were both good and bad ones and that the impact often depends on whether government actually want to hear the public’s views. It works best when civil servants understand the benefit of it, so it’s a matter of culture change.
  • Participants mentioned that government would benefit from a broad range of stakeholder perspectives.

Open Government Network

  • Participants wondered how the wider public could be informed and involved in the Open Government Network.
  • It was mentioned that resources were needed for smaller organisations to participate.  
  • It was questioned how government could be challenged effectively by individuals.
  • Tim explained that that was the purpose of the network. It is independent from government. That allows it to collaborate with the government where it’s useful but it also allows it to be challenging and to criticise where needed.

Open government in Newcastle

  • Tim outlined the idea of an Open Local Government Partnership, and asked participants if they thought it would be valuable in Newcastle.
  • Participants liked the idea of a local open government platform.  They mentioned that there were already many projects on the ground and such a platform could link them up.  They agreed that it would be better to take things down the shelf if it works rather than reinventing the wheel, but equally some things would have to be different to be applicable.
  • The group was asked what the specific open government issues in Newcastle would be that could interest a wide range of people. Responses included:
    • Transport links
    • Impact of welfare reforms
    • Access to services
  • Participants mentioned that it was important to make a business case, so that the council would see the need for change.
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