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DCLG builds local authorities register



GDS data chief praises effort as part of progress report on work in the sector

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has been developing a register of English local authorities as part of the Government’s effort to standardise the registers used by its departments.

Government data director Paul Maltby, who leads the data group in the Government Digital Service, has praised the move in a progress report blog on work on a national data infrastructure for public services.

He described the register, which is currently in alpha format, as “a giant leap forward” which will provide a single way of labelling each local authority in the country.

It will enable other organisations to draw on the register for their own software, to which they can add their own specialised data – such as the restaurant hygiene ratings from the Food Standards Agency.

The data is available in bulk download or in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) through an API for developers, and when moving to beta will provide a single list of local authorities to be built into services or used in analysis.

This is the second significant step in the development of single registers for all of government, following the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s project to create a Country Register – a project which is now in its beta phase.

Custodian role

Maltby emphasised that it is important for the organisation creating the registers to ensure it is correct at source, and that each should have a custodian responsible for their upkeep. “A custodian can only be held accountable for the data they mint,” he says.

He also highlighted the importance of APIs and how they relate to an effective consent model for using data.

“As we improve our digital services, we are seeing the opportunities of using APIs to query data across government where this is appropriate,” he said.

“This will mean a shift over time from the reliance on bulk data transfers between departments, and the opportunity for a more efficient, consent-based, and privacy-aware way of managing personal data.”

This will involve finding the right balance between enabling people to hold their personal data back from being used in research while ensuring, for example, that older people with little awareness of the issue do not miss out on receiving the support to which they are entitled – such as payments for heating bills.

Private and collective

“Finding the right balance between private and collective interests will be part of the discussions in Parliament as the Digital Economy Bill progresses,” he said.

“Where consent is not on its own a suitable protection, we will need to rely on other safeguards to protect the public interest.”

He also indicated that the data science code of ethics, which was published in May and sets out six good practice principles, will be subject to further iterations.

“We are seeking to build this into our emerging data science function in government,” Maltby said.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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