The Greater London Authority’s digital chief has called on the Government to address the role of utilities providers into any future data sharing arrangements for public services.
Theo Blackwell (pictured) has raised it as one of a number of issues in a blogpost outlining the GLA’s response to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s call for evidence on the proposed National Data Strategy.
He highlights the fact that utilities are an important element of a city and that a proactive infrastructure for data sharing can support several positive outcomes. These include identifying the opportunities for joint street works with local authorities, improving the design for new property developments, and finding opportunities for better coordination between utilities.
There could also be better city resilience planning for climate change and for responding to incidents such as water pollution.
But existing data sharing arrangements are not adequate, with the infrastructure providers often feeling no big incentive to share information, and identifying barriers such as the costs of processing and regular updates, and regulators not having sufficient powers to make it happen.
“Utilities are an important part of the picture for our city and it is critical for cities to plan for growth strategically, and for our work on climate change,” Blackwell says.
Violence and skills
His other points include emphasising two areas that need a more consistent approach to data sharing between central and local government: violence reduction, which brings together several agencies from the public sector; and skills devolution, with the linking of data from sources as diverse as schools and benefits claims.
Among the areas identified for improvement are access to detailed data from the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs, the linking of data across services, and the collation of data from different districts or boroughs under the new combined authorities. The blog also says that authorities should not, as at present, have to used freedom of information requests to obtain data from central government departments.
The piece rounds up with a series of recommendations for a common approach across government to sharing data, including a centralised negotiation with departments on access to data, which would carry more weight than any from local organisations. This would be accompanied by a common approach to applications for central government data.
Others include a comprehensive API for organisations to access data directly, managing public sector data as an asset and making full use of the provisions in the Digital Economy Act for better data sharing.
“As the strategic authority for London, we strong support the principle of a national data strategy to improve data sharing with local and devolved government,” Blackwell says.