Notes from OGN meeting with Minister Margot James | 5 September 2018
On 5 September 2018, members of the Open Government Network’s steering committee met with Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries, to talk about open government in the UK and the development of the UK Open Government Action Plan 2018-20.
This note of the meeting was produced by the OGN.
Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries
Thom Townsend – DCMS
Katie Holder – DCMS
Sue Bateman – DCMS
Rachel Davies Teka – Transparency International UK
Gavin Freeguard – Institute for Government
Tim Hughes – Involve
Andreas Pavlou – Involve/UK OGN Coordinator
Alex Blanchard – UK OGN Steering Committee member
Giuseppe Sollazzo – UK OGN Steering Committee Member
Introduction to open government and the UK’s place in that
Andreas Pavlou explained briefly the history of the network and its relationship with the UK Government. He highlighted the benefits of multi-stakeholder collaboration through the OGP process and the global leadership role of the UK on open government.
Reflections on the OGP Summit in Georgia and domestic implementation of open government
Rachel Davies Teka explained how the OGP Summit in Georgia was a missed opportunity to learn about the work being done across the world on open government as well as promote developments in the UK. The Minister expressed her regret that she was unable to attend the Summit.
Rachel Davies Teka also reflected upon the letter sent to Matt Hancock on 9 July 2018 which highlighted the concerns around the lack of ministerial engagement with the process so far and the impact this has had on the draft commitments in the action plan.
Gavin Freeguard explained how this is also set against a general perception of government becoming less open or transparent. He explained that data published by civil society has shown how over time, UK Government Departments have become less likely to publish information following FOI requests.
The draft Action Plan
Tim Hughes introduced the positive aspects of the current process for the action plan, particularly the setting up of the multi-stakeholder forum for this process as exists in many other countries. The UK OGN invited the Minister to chair the Multi-stakeholder Forum from now on.
The Minister expressed her interest in chairing the next multi-stakeholder forum.
Tim Hughes mentioned the delay to the launch of the public consultation and that this means the UK has missed the initial OGP deadline for submitting its national action plan. The Minister shared this concern about the delay and asked about what can be done to improve the action plan to make sure there are commitments that are more ambitious and transformative.
In response to this, Gavin Freeguard raised the issue that there are no specific Freedom of Information (FOI)-related commitments in this plan. He suggested that a commitment could be introduced that looks at extending the scope of FOI so that it covers private bodies delivering public services. He explained the public interest in ensuring citizens are able to access information about public services regardless of whether they are delivered by the state or through private entities, reinforced by the Information Commissioner’s suggestion that the Government needs to modernise the Freedom of Information Act to restore “the public’s right to know irrespective of whether the service is delivered by public, private or third sector organisations”.
Andreas Pavlou raised the lack of a commitment relating to implementation of section 106 of the Equalities Act on collecting and publishing ‘diversity’ data related to election candidates.
The Minister expressed her interest on the issue of diversity. Attendees discussed previous commitments related to elections data and the challenges faced. The UK OGN explained how there are still gaps or errors in the data already being collected, and that it is not universally collected in a standard format. They also raised the need to develop an incentive for local authorities to adopt best practice and standard formats around such data, and suggested pilot programmes for some local authorities as a first step.
Tim Hughes raised the issue of developing participatory mechanisms to better inform and influence decision making in government. The Minister expressed her interest in such mechanisms.
Rachel Davies Teka also mentioned the potential to develop commitments to collect and publish data related to cases of corruption. This was linked to a need for enhanced digitalisation and transparency in UK courts to enable such analysis. She mentioned the difficulty for civil society and government to monitor impact or develop effective policy in these areas as data is not available nor in standardised or open formats.
Andreas Pavlou added that parallel processes in Scotland and Wales are developing open government action plans. He expressed regret that the lack of a government in Northern Ireland is delaying their own plan, although the nations still have an opportunity to learn from each other.
Finally, the lack of transparency in Brexit policymaking was also raised by the UK OGN Steering Committee.