A study for chancellor George Osborne has painted a damning picture about a lack of data-sharing in public services - warning of confusion, caution and a lack of clarity. It has called for cross-party agreement for legislation straight after the general election to ensure information is "shared more effectively", to cut costs and improve services.
The report - by the independent 'Service Transformation Challenge Panel' - was published ahead of today's autumn statement to identify ways to reduce the cost of public services. It found that "much more needs to be done to shift attitudes" to make data-sharing the default position, warning of:
- A lack of leadership about the importance of information sharing.
- A lack of public awareness about the benefits.
- Different and often incompatible information management systems.
- Uncertain interpretation of the Data Protection Act, compounded by conflicting guidance issued to different organisations about what can and cannot be shared.
- Conflicting approaches about how information can be safely shared.
The report reads: "Many of the places we visited told us in very clear terms that they understood the need to better share information and use data to create more integrated public services. However, they expressed uncertainty about how to achieve that in a practical and safe way in line with their perceived statutory obligations. "We also received a number of written submissions that argued the plethora of guidance about information sharing across the public sector was confusing and created a lack of clarity about what could and could not be shared."
The team - led former and current local authority chief executives - visited local authorities in Cheshire, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Leeds, Leicestershire, London, Nottingham and Staffordshire, as well as health trusts. They concluded: "It became clear some agencies are very risk averse and guard their autonomy to the point that they will not share information even when there is a clear rationale and statutory basis. In other instances, we were told that because sharing has not been the norm its value is not recognised and the appropriate agreement and processes have not been established to make it happen."
The report found "a generalised attitude across the public sector that sharing information is difficult, risky and time consuming". In response, Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander did not comment specifically on the findings about data-sharing. But he said: "Breaking down barriers between public services at a local level enables people to get a better, more coordinated service at less cost. The panel's report makes the case brilliantly and I look forward to leading this agenda in the coming months."
Pictured: 70 Whitehall by Paul Clarke © | paulclarke.com