News 12th February 2019

[Press Release] Brexit delays: Government challenged by civil society groups after ministers miss deadline to outline transparency commitments

by Andreas Pavlou

  • Press release under embargo until 00:01 Tuesday 12th February 2019
  • The letter is available here (pdf).
  • Andreas Pavlou is available for comment on 07943669435 or 020 3745 4334

 

Leading civil society organisations working in open government (1) have written to the UK government outlining their ‘deep concern’, after ministers missed the deadline for publishing commitments on transparency.

As part of the UK government’s role in the Open Government Partnership – which involves 79 countries across the world – ministers are required to publish commitments on improving transparency, accountability and participation every two years.

Westminster’s new action plan was due to be published in December 2018. But the government are yet to publish their new plan, amid fears that it has been buried by Brexit.

The UK Open Government Network (2), which is made up of individuals and organisations including Transparency International UK and the Electoral Reform Society, have expressed their disappointment in a letter to Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries.

The letter follows an official response from the Open Government Partnership CEO, Sanjay Pradhan, who has written to the UK Government outlining that they have “acted contrary to OGP process” (3).

The letter from the Open Government Network calls for immediate steps to be taken to publish the plan and reads:

“UK open government action plans have raised the bar and set the pace for open government reform globally. The UK’s leadership on [these] issues…has moved other countries and jurisdictions to introduce similar reforms.”

“This [delay] risks undermining the UK’s position as an international leader on open government, our role in setting the agenda on a global stage, and implementing domestic reform.”

“We urge the UK Government to submit and publish the fourth UK Open Government Action Plan without further delay.”

Commenting on the letter, Andreas Pavlou, Coordinator of the Open Government Network said:

“The UK government was one of the founding members of the Open Government Partnership, so it is deeply concerning that this agenda has slipped. Previous UK action plans have led the way in delivering new anti-corruption initiatives and improving transparency, such as through the creation of a public register of beneficial owners of companies in the UK.

“Committing to transparent politics has never been more important. There is a desire across the whole of the UK for more accountable government. With ministers set to get more powers after Brexit, there is an even greater role for participation and transparency – some of the things that would be integral to the delayed plan.

“While the ongoing withdrawal from the European Union is one of the greatest challenges facing ministers and the UK, it should not be an excuse to hide from scrutiny or renege on these vital commitments to openness as part of the Open Government Partnership.”

Jess Blair, Spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Without a clear plan, the UK risks slipping behind on vital efforts to open up government and tackle corruption. The UK has been a leading force in efforts to open up government data, so it is deeply concerning that ministers have missed this deadline and appear to be stalling.

“Given the recent spate of contracting/outsourcing errors, increased transparency over public contracts is more necessary than ever. The government must not hide behind Brexit as an excuse for inaction on this front: it is abundantly clear that the public want real accountability from government over how their money is being spent. There is a lot of exciting work to be done in opening up our institutions. Let us maintain our status as a world leader in this area and put these bold ideas into action.”

Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, said:

“In the past, the UK has been a global leader on implementing open government reforms. The disappointing delay to finalising this action plan shows the Government’s lack of focus and strategy on this domestic reform agenda, as politicians are consumed by competing priorities.”

Stephen Kinnock MP, member of the Brexit Select Committee, said:

“There is a real and present danger that the cloak of secrecy which has been cast over the Brexit process will end up fostering a broader culture of weakening commitments to transparency and accountability across government.

“It is therefore vital that the Open Government Action Plan is published immediately. With public trust in our politics at an all-time low, the government must act urgently to start re-building and strengthening confidence in our institutions, and in our democracy.”

 

ENDS

Notes to Editor

  1. Since 2011, the Open Government Partnership has brought together government reformers and civil society leaders from around 79 countries to create action plans that make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable. The UK government is a member. Read the Open Government Declaration here: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/open-government-declaration
  2. The members of the UK Open Government Network’s Steering Group are:
    Elizabeth Chamberlain, National Council for Voluntary Organisations
    Gavin Freeguard, Institute for Government
    Jess Blair, Electoral Reform Society Wales & Welsh Open Government Network
    Michelle Brook, The Democratic Society
    Rachel Davies Teka, Transparency International UK
    Ruchir Shah, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
    Lucy McTernan, Scotland Open Government Network
    Colm Burns, Northern Ireland Open Government Network
    Alexander Blandford, User-centred Product Management Specialist
    Alexander Roberts
    Kevin Keith
  3. The official response from the Open Government Partnership can be found here: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/UK_Letter_Cohort-Shift-2019-2021_January2019.pdf
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