OGN Publications 29th May 2019

Statement by UK Open Government Network at #OGPCanada

The UK has been one of the leading participant countries in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) since it was launched in 2011. As first co-chair of the OGP, the UK secured the initiative’s foundations and helped broaden its reach far beyond the original eight founding members to over 50 participating countries.

The commitments in previous UK open government action plans have raised the bar and set the pace for open government reform globally, encouraging other countries and jurisdictions to consider and introduce similar reforms. [1]

Therefore, we welcome the publishing of the UK’s 2019-21 Open Government National Action Plan. We look forward to working with reformers inside government to implement this plan and continue developing the open government agenda. [2]

However, developing and implementing ambitious commitments relies on high-level political support that enables active, meaningful and ambitious collaboration between reformers inside government and civil society.

We have been concerned by the lack of visible high-level political support for the open government process in the UK over the last two years. While reformers in government and civil society have been engaged in the process, and the responsible government minister, Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, has written a positive foreword to the plan, we have been otherwise disappointed by the lack of ministerial engagement since September 2018.

Our concerns are further compounded by developments in other areas of transparency, participation and accountability throughout government and UK institutions.

Although we appreciate the Government’s negotiations with the European Union are a national priority, the lack of high-level political support for open government more generally is having a negative effect across institutions, whether it be;

  • the growing percentage of Freedom of Information requests not granted access in full, [3]
  • the Government’s response to the ICO report ‘Outsourcing Oversight’ showing it is unwilling to act upon recommendations to expand the scope of Freedom of Information’, [4]
  • delays to fully publishing the latest government grants using approved standards, [5]
  • limited progress in opening up geospatial data (including through the commitments of the Geospatial Commission), [6]
  • the failure to meet performance targets for Verify (the flagship digital programme for government), [7]
  • the costs to the taxpayer of cancelled government contracts, [8]
  • missing the risks and warnings about large contractors like Carillion. [9]

Concern about the Open Government Partnership process and the broader context was also reflected in the recently published Independent Reporting Mechanism End-of-Term Report. It highlighted concerns that the institutional change and political context has negatively impacted the level of completion of reforms in the 2016-18 National Action Plan. [10]

The UK is at risk of undermining its position as an international leader on, and investor in, open government, along with its role in setting the agenda on a global stage and the Government’s commitment to implementing domestic reform.

Our disappointment and frustration as expressed in this statement arise because in recent times, words and promises on the open government process have failed to result in public action by Government.

As civil society organisations, we will continue to work with citizens and all levels of government, through our projects and campaigns, to bring about more openness in the UK.

Now that the UK National Action Plan has been published we call on the UK Government to fully deliver all eight commitments in the 2019-21 Open Government National Action Plan, set out a high-level political commitment to open government reform moving forward, and work closely with civil society to make UK Government and institutions more open, transparent, participatory and accountable.

 

The UK Open Government Civil Society Network

Open Government Network Cymru

Northern Ireland Open Government Network

Open Government Network Scotland

Involve

The Democratic Society

Electoral Reform Society

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

Open Data Institute

Practical Participation

The Women’s Budget Group

Open Data Manchester CIC

National Council for Voluntary Organisations

Publush What You Pay UK

360Giving

Transition Edinburgh

Code The City

If your organisation is interested in signing onto this statement, please contact: andreas@involve.org.uk

Footnotes:

[1] For example, by introducing a public register of beneficial owners of companies, developing a cross-government anti-corruption strategy, publishing aid funding, and, requiring UK-incorporated and UK-listed oil, gas and mining companies to publish their payments to governments in open data formats.
[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-national-action-plan-for-open-government-2019-2021/uk-national-action-plan-for-open-government-2019-2021
[3] https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/charts/percentage-freedom-information-requests-granted-full-department
[4] http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2019-0516/Letter_to_ICO_from_MfC.pdf
[5] https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/United-Kingdom_End-of-Term_Report_2016-2018_Comments.pdf
[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-to-unlock-hidden-value-of-government-data
[7] https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2017/accessing-public-services-through-verify-report-published-17-19/
[8] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/may/01/chris-grayling-cancels-ferry-contracts-at-extra-50m-cost-to-taxpayers-brexit
[9] https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2017/carillion-risk-assessments-report-published-17-19/
[10] https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/united-kingdom-end-of-term-report-2016-2018-year-2