Notes from OGN meeting with Minister Caroline Nokes | 2 November 2017
On 2 November 2017, members of the Open Government Network’s steering committee met with Caroline Nokes MP, Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency, to talk about the UK’s open government agenda with a view to progressing on the next UK Open Government Action Plan. This note of the meeting was produced by the OGN.
Caroline Nokes MP, Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency
Thom Townsend– Cabinet Office
William Gerry – Cabinet Office
Sue Bateman – Cabinet Office
Patrick Fraser – Cabinet Office
Rachel Davies Teka – Transparency International UK
Gavin Freeguard – Institute for Government
Tim Hughes – Involve
Andreas Pavlou – Involve
Lucy McTernan – SCVO and Scotland Open Government Network
Scene setting: Open Government in the UK
The Minister welcomed the representatives of the OGN.
Tim Hughes explained briefly the history of the network and its relationship with the UK Government.
Gavin Freeguard added that given the decline in trust in government across the world, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has an important role as a force for positive change. There have been over 2000 commitments so far made under the OGP initiative, and the UK, as a founding country, has been seen as a global leader in open government. The example of beneficial ownership transparency was provided, as well as the government’s recent Race Disparity Audit and the benefit that publishing this data can have in addressing social issues. The minister agreed that the Race Disparity Audit was a positive example of the need to publish key information to produce effective policy, even when it might be uncomfortable for government to do so.
Lucy McTernan presented the OGP’s subnational pioneers programme and specifically the Scottish example. She added that soon there would be fifteen further spaces for subnational OGP participants, and suggested that more UK subnational entities could apply, strengthening the UK as a global leader in open government. She stated that the positive experience in Scotland has meant the next action plan will be more ambitious and policy-focused, rather than technical or generic in nature. She concluded that the OGP initiative has helped to speed up other open government programmes in Scotland by providing a framework for civil servants to push further reforms.
Ambitions for the next UK action plan
Tim Hughes explained the fact the UK was now moving towards its fourth action plan cycle. He also informed the minister that the potential global summit in Georgia in early summer 2018 might provide an appropriate deadline for launching a UK action plan.
Rachel Davies Teka asked the minister whether at this early stage there were any clear interests or ambitions she had for the action plan. The Minister expressed her desire for the action plan to be ambitious. She stated that it was most important for her that the commitments and the plan in general have impact on the lives of citizens, for example by making government processes quicker and more straightforward. She said that more could be done to clarify to citizens what tiers of government deliver what services, and open government could be focused also on the city-level. She stated that expanding open government to the local authority level is particularly interesting to her. She also agreed with Lucy McTernan that the fourth action plan could begin to move beyond more technical commitments to transformative ones. The Minister used the example of a recent trip to Southampton University to highlight the public benefits of open data.
She agreed that it would be possible to have further meetings during the course of the development of the fourth action plan. This could also include meetings including other devolved or local government representatives who are engaged on open government.
City involvement in the OGP
Tim Hughes presented two key requests from the OGN: (1) Support from the Minister that encourages devolved and/or local governments to apply to the OGP subnational pioneers programme, if it is expanded beyond the current 15 entities. (2) A commitment to engage with local government on open government issues which could also be incorporated in the fourth action plan.
The current National Action Plan
The Minister asked the OGN for feedback on its experience during the current action plan with a view to improving the process this time around. She expressed the need for the government and civil society to explain the OGP in language that can be understood by citizens, as well as be engaging and exciting for them.
Tim Hughes expressed the need for a clear outline of the process and regular discussions with the Minister and her colleagues to identify shared areas of interest, negotiate disagreements and develop the action plan. This would be especially necessary if subnational levels are to be included in this process.
Beneficial Ownership Transparency
Rachel Davies Teka reminded the minister that the corresponding legislation for this commitment is due in April 2018, and expressed civil society’s expectation that this would be fulfilled. The Minister expressed her support for this commitment and stated she would discuss the commitment with the relevant BEIS Minister, Margot James, and pass on the enthusiasm from the OGN for this commitment to be completed.
Freedom of Information Act
Gavin Freeguard expressed concern that the commitment on producing an updated Freedom of Information Code of Practice, that would have tangible and direct benefits for citizens, has been delayed. The Minister confirmed that the draft Code of Practice will be published shortly for public consultation. She confirmed the minister responsible is working hard to get the Code ready for the consultation.
Rachel Davies Teka added that the UK Anti-Corruption Strategy also appears to be delayed. Thom Townsend confirmed that the strategy will be published in due course.
Gavin Freeguard welcomed the implementation of the Grants Data commitment, and added that it would be great to see more government departments and public bodies adopting the 360Giving standard. He concluded that there is evidence that adoption of the standards has helped to encourage other organisations to also do so.
Finally, Tim Hughes reiterated the UK’s position as global leader on open government, and the positive outlook of the OGN for the development of the fourth UK OGP action plan.