On 2nd July 2015, the steering group of the Open Government Civil Society Network met with the new Minister for the Cabinet Office, Matthew Hancock MP, to discuss open government in the UK.
Please see a note from the meeting below.
OGN Meeting with Matthew Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office
Date: Thursday 2nd July 2015
Location: 70 Whitehall, London
Matthew Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office
Paul Maltby, Director of Open Data and Government Innovation
Ollie Buckley, Transparency Team, Government Innovation Group
Hannah Peaker, Transparency Team, Government Innovation Group
Lizetta Lyster, Transparency Team, Government Innovation Group
Network Steering Group members
Andy Williamson, Democratise
Anthony Zacharzewski, The Democratic Society
Martin Tisné, Omidyar Network
Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK
Simon Burall, Involve
Claire Schouten, International Budget Partnership
Tim Davies, Practical Participation
Tim Hughes, Involve
Josephine Suherman-Bailey, Involve
The Minister began by expressing his gratitude to members of the Open Government Network (the network) steering group for joining him. He stated his interest in the agenda and invited the steering group to tell him more about the work of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in the UK.
Simon introduced the network, including its origins and membership, and highlighted the strong relationship between the network and government in the last parliament. He stated that there are areas in which the network disagrees with government, including Freedom of Information, but that the OGP provides a forum in which to have those robust conversations.
Martin introduced the OGP, how it was set up and what it was set up to achieve. The OGP was founded to support countries to learn from each other. The success of the OGP has been in being able to bring together countries to learn from each other and make effective reforms. If the UK wants to remain the most transparent government in the world, it must both continue to learn from others as well as offer when it has itself learnt out to the field. Some open government reforms also only work if countries work together. Martin highlighted the example of the public register of beneficial ownership commitment announced in 2013. Because the issue of corruption spans borders, the commitment only works if other countries also pick it up and sign up to those same principles. It was good to see the government bringing the issue to the G20 and potentially bringing it up to 65 countries thanks to OGP.
Opportunities and ambition for the next National Action Plan
Andy spoke on the ambition for the upcoming National Action Plan (NAP) process to model open government. He spoke about his work with the OGP legislative working group chaired by Chile. The Minister asked about his work on parliamentary openness and Andy described the UK’s status in second place in terms of world openness, with Brazil in first place – mainly due to the lack of openness in Hansard, where information is uploaded in pdf format. The Minister agreed that what is important is not just the fact that data is available, but how it is available.
Andy praised the OGP as a beacon for collaboration, but said it can go further. For example, it can showcase the effectiveness of things like co-production: twenty people will come up with better ideas than one person by themselves. The first time the NAP was developed, it was done ‘in house’. The second time, they got more people involved over time. With the next NAP, Andy says we have the opportunity to get it right from day one. With the OGP we demonstrate trust between the government and civil society, and that’s what people are always saying is missing.
Tim discussed the timeline and sign off for the next NAP. We are looking at mid-December for final publication, but it would be good to launch an ambitious commitment in October at the OGP Global Summit.
The Minister confirmed that we are starting with a firm signal of support for open government, after he raised it at a Cabinet Meeting. The Minister also affirmed the Prime Minister’s commitment to developing an ambitious NAP. Departments are being encouraged to be supportive of the process.
Anthony spoke on the importance of giving the devolved nations ownership over the OGP. Different governments are moving at different speeds on different issues, so the UK government could learn from what Scotland is doing on participation, and Scotland has things to learn from the UK approach on open data. This NAP should be a shared action plan containing the shared aspirations of the nations.
Paul noted that progress in cities has been a big thing for the OGP, for example, in Mexico.
The Minister noted that this could be something to look at with devolution to cities. City devolution is offering big incentives for people to come together, as they have in Manchester. Manchester is being seen as the model for local devolution.
Martin noted that there’s a lot of scope for iteration on different levels – local, national, international. As one of the founders of OGP, he notes that they set up the partnership to encourage a race to the top. In the OGP Steering Group they have discussed cities a lot but haven’t yet set up a process whereby cities can develop their own action plans, even as pilots.
The Minister made reference to the city devolution programme which is offering big incentives to bring people together, and suggested that we could focus reforms in a couple of cities, such as Manchester and London, and use them as models to broaden further down the line. He also suggested that we look for opportunities where specific systems being reformed, such as the judiciary.
The Minister went on to ask the Steering Group how much members do on the side of using the data which has been opened and generating the functionality.
Simon responded that there are certainly members in the network doing this, but their focus has mainly been to shine a light on what government is doing, rather than operating as businesses.
The Minister commented that in government they often have this discussion about who will use the data if it is provided. If we release it, will there be people out there who do things with it? However, we saw with the release of crime data, the website crashed because it was so popular, so there is clearly a demand. We’ve just changed the law so you can link educational courses to outcomes, i.e. salary after completing the course.
The Minister went on to describe how releasing data can sometimes be costly. He commented that it would be good to be able turn to the OGN to knock that argument against it down.
Andy responded that releasing data in isolation may well in some cases be useless, but being able to link a number of data sets is where the potential lies. He also commented that instead of a website the API could be opened up.
Rachel then spoke on how the OGP can support and extend action on anti-corruption. She stated that the anti-corruption plan spearheaded by Matthew Hancock MP in the last parliament was a fantastic step forward, and it was great to see the government bringing it to the G7, and including beneficial ownership in the last NAP. She stated that the opportunity with this NAP is to fill in the gaps and create incentives for transparency. Rachel described the current situation in which companies can buy property in the UK and no one knows who the owner really is – including the Land Registry. These properties may have been bought with proceeds of corruption, by companies registered in offshore havens.
The Minister stated that we can certainly look at that, though it should be acknowledged that when the UK make these moves ahead of other countries, we expose ourselves to some economic risk. The more the rest of the world is doing it, the more we can do it.
Martin replied that we could be using using the OGP to push this agenda internationally. Simon also responded that we have this position within the OGP that enables the UK to demonstrate that leadership.
Paul noted that as well as domestic reform and domestic commitments, there’s an international geo-political element to the OGP – demonstrating leadership. He stated that we’re keen for the OGN to help government be the best at co-production, be the best at open data.
Andy noted that others across the world look to the way we have run this open and collaborative process in envy. Simon also stated that the last NAP was sent to both civil society and government for sign off at the same time, demonstrating the trust that had been built up, even with very critical members of the OGN.
The Minister thanked the members of the OGN Steering Group for attending and stated his continued commitment to the OGP.