News 15th June 2018

The UK’s Third NAP Mid-Term Report: Events, Evolution and (Un)evenness

by Ben Worthy

Ben Worthy is the IRM for the Open Government Partnership and a Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck College.

Ben Worthy is the UK IRM and an academic at Birkbeck College, University of London. You can read the full IRM report here. You can also come along to hear Ben in conversation with his Australian equivalent in London on the 12th July.

 

This week my mid-term IRM report on the UK’s Third National Action Plan was published, covering the UK’s progress up until the end of last year. So what does it tell us about where we are? I’d sum it up as events, evolution and unevenness.

Events

Looking back across the plan, which began long ago in May 2016, it’s hard to imagine how different things look in the UK now and quite how much else has happened. Just to give you a flavour, since the NAP began the UK has had two prime ministers, two governments, four ministers in charge of openness, a referendum on membership of the EU in June 2016, a General Election in June 2017 and, most recently, a move of openness policy from the Cabinet Office to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Throughout this time, the UK has also been negotiating the terms by which it leaves the European Union in March 2019. So to say officials and civil society have had other things to think about is an understatement. It’s important to praise everyone involved for managing to keep some focus and energy on the process.

Evolution

As I put it in the report ‘commitments in the United Kingdom’s (UK) third action plan have lowered ambition in relation to previous OGP cycles’. In terms of what was in the plan, some parts of it were very much an evolution from the second NAP. Some policies stemmed directly from the eye-catching ideas of 2013-2015, such as extending Beneficial Ownership to foreign companies, the creation of a government-wide anti-corruption strategy and the extension and pushing forward of extractives openness (that is moving forward to cover traded commodities). Others were also about improving facilities (like Gov.uk), building support and training and boosting existing access to information (by updating the UK’s FOI law). Not everything, of course, was a follow on. One particularly interesting commitment was to create a common data standard for local election results, so we could get a better picture more quickly of election results.

Another very important evolution was the involvement of the devolved bodies in contributing their own sets of policies (see the table below). The Welsh government contributed 9 commitments, covering open data, ethical supply chain openness to its own future well-being law. The Northern Irish Executive pushed 4 commitments around topics such as open contracting and open policy-making. The Scottish government, which has its own pioneer commitments, also pushed for joint UK wide action with a meeting of all four governments that took place in April 2018.

(Un)evenness

Given the variety of commitments and the pressure of events, progress has been rather uneven. As the table below shows, most of the commitments are somewhere between ‘limited’ and ‘substantial’, though some have already been completed (and some run outside of the two-year timetable).

Table 1: Assessment of Progress by Commitment
(as of end 2017)

COMMITMENT SHORT NAME

POTENTIAL IMPACT

LEVEL OF COMPLETION

NONE MINOR MODERATE TRANSFORMATIVE NOT STARTED LIMITED SUBSTANTIAL COMPLETE
1. Beneficial ownership
2. Natural resource transparency
3. Anti-Corruption Strategy
4. Anti-Corruption Innovation Hub
5. Open contracting
6. Grants data
7. Elections data
8. Enhanced transparency requirements and revised FOI Act Code of Practice
9. Identifying and publishing core data assets
10. Involving data users in shaping the future of open data
11. Better use of data assets
12. GOV.UK
13. Ongoing collaborative approach to open government reform

Scotland

1. Effective Open Government for governments at all levels

Northern Ireland

1. Develop & trial effective open policy-making and public engagement methods
2. Promote greater levels of public sector innovation
3. To investigate implementation of the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) in Central Procurement operations
4. Open up government for greater accountability, improve public services and society and building a more prosperous and equal society

Wales

1. Open data plan
2. Open data service
3. StatsWales
4. Administrative Data Research Centre Wales
5. Government Social Research Publication Protocol
6. Gov.Wales
7. Code of practice for ethical employment in supply chains
8. Well-being of Future Generations Act – National Indicators for Wales
9. Well-being duty on specified public bodies in Wales

 

It wasn’t only Brexit causing the delay. While officials, and the Cabinet Office in particular, were seen as committed, politicians were not. There was a general sense that the OGP process was derailed with ‘no strong commitment to values’ and support for the ‘letter not spirit’ of openness from senior politicians. In the last year there’s also been controversy about government openness across the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland. My final report will show how far the commitments have come by the end of the process.

What Next?

The Open Government Network has just published its manifesto for what it would like to see in the 4th NAP. Here’s a few recommendations from my report that might feed in:

  • A Parliamentary committee (and devolved equivalents) to oversee transparency policies.
  • A high profile intervention or an event in support of the OGP process by a senior politician (a speech, a policy or conference) – with the Scottish meeting in April becoming, perhaps, a regular occurrence.
  • A focus on more information and data on the impact of Brexit on everyday life
  • Continue to experiment with new ways of engaging CSOs
  • Choice of a selection of high profile cross-cutting ‘signature’ reforms for the next NAP that are cross-cutting and high-profile (of a kind seen in the third action plan such as Beneficial Ownership) perhaps focusing at local government level.
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