News 31st July 2013

UK Government launches BETA of new tool for interrogating government spending

by Tim Hughes

Tim is coordinator of the UK Open Government Network.

The UK Government has just launched a BETA version of a new tool for interrogating government spending called GIST – Government Interrogating Spending Tool: http://www.gist.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/

A press release by the Cabinet Office states that:

powerful new online tool which presents taxpayers with an unprecedented view of how their money is spent was launched today by Cabinet Office Minister Chloë Smith. Opening the government’s books in this way will increase accountability and transparency, paving the way for further savings.

One of the first of its kind in the world, the Government Interrogating Spending Tool – GIST for short – represents the next stage in the government’s transparency agenda.

Easily accessible to the public, GIST presents departmental spending data in a clear, intuitive and user-friendly manner, which allows users to monitor and compare spending by different government departments. Previously this data was only published in clunky spreadsheet form, and the data was complicated to interpret and difficult to compare.

As more data is added to GIST over time, users will also be able to make historical comparisons and identify trends. They can also see a breakdown of what each area of spending costs them personally.

Chloë Smith said:

The government will leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with the deficit. Greater transparency can help us identify wasteful spending. That’s why we’re launching a new, easy-to-use, interactive tool that gives the public the chance to compare data in a smart and intuitive format.

GIST, for the first time, lays open the government’s books and crucially provides a user-friendly tool with which to analyse the data. This puts meaningful information and analysis at the fingertips of all.

Stephen Kelly, Chief Operating Officer for government, said:

Last year we saved £10 billion, but we know that to bring costs down further and achieve the lowest sustainable cost base for government, we need to use data more effectively. By publishing better information about departmental spending, and comparing departmental performance alongside external benchmarks, we will find new ways to save money for taxpayers.

Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:

For too long Whitehall has kept taxpayers in the dark about how their cash is spent, so putting more data online is a huge step forward for transparency. What’s more, the GIST makes government spending simple to understand, so it is easier for taxpayers to root out waste. After all, power should be in the hands of those who are footing the bills, not those who are spending other people’s money.

Part of the Civil Service Reform Plan, the importance of consistent and comparable management information has been consistently raised by Lord Browne and other government non-executive directors and is a long-standing priority for the Cabinet Office.

Better data about government spending and performance helps drive up performance and highlights areas for further efficiency savings, which last year shaved £10 billion from the cost of Whitehall.

GIST allows users to view 2 sets of data:

  • the Online System for Central Accounting and Reporting (OSCAR), a financial information reporting system used by HM Treasury
  • the Quarterly Data Summary (QDS), which is collected by the Cabinet Office to give managers a snapshot of current performance and compare this against historical data

In the past, it was difficult for government to easily compare how different parts of Whitehall spent public money. The federal nature of Whitehall meant departments developed different systems for collecting data, even where 2 departments were spending money on a similar function, such as HR or procurement.

Creating GIST is one of the ways in which the government is responding tolast month’s report by former Logica CEO Dr Martin Read, which recommended steps to improve the quality, consistency and presentation of management information from across government.

Leave a comment below to share what you think of the tool.

UPDATE:

There’s some early analysis of the tool from the Open Knowledge Foundation here: http://blog.okfn.org/2013/07/30/whats-the-deal-with-the-uk-governments-new-spending-tool/

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