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Government bills promise open data boost



Open Data Institute leaders welcome moves for new obligations on private sector providers of public services

Government legislation is set to provide a fresh boost to the open data movement, extending the requirement into some areas of private sector delivery of public services, according to some of its leading figures.

Representatives of the Open Data Institute (ODI) highlighted the potential at a press briefing at yesterday’s Open Data Summit. They pointed to the Digital Economy Bill and Bus Services Bill as laying the ground for a wider opening up of data for reuse.

ODI chief executive officer Jeni Tennison (pictured) pointed to clauses in the Digital Economy Bill requiring private sector organisations to open up data if they are under public contract.

“It’s a pattern we’re starting to see in the UK, but not laid down in law,” she said, adding: “We’re also seeing the Bus Services Bill which includes clauses about private sector operators opening up timetable and route data.

“It’s an interesting pattern we’re seeing in the next phase of open data, where it’s not just government data being made open, but government using its power to get private sector data made open.”

Sir Nigel Shadbolt, chair of the ODI, also indicated Digital Economy Bill’s potential to support open data.

“It’s a really impressive piece of legislation and enshrines in law things we all say we believe in, everything from posthumous dealing with your data through to certain classes of data should be open for the public good,” he said.

“I think there has always been a sense that in this area there is a race to the top between countries trying to learn from each other to achieve efficiencies and generate economic and social value. We have great evidence here.”

He added: “The point that’s powerful about the bill is that this is not a sector by sector resolution, but has taken the view that the default position will be that if you privatise a service delivery and there is data associated with it, that goes into the public domain.”

Tennison highlighted a collaboration between the ODI and Sport England, announced yesterday, to develop a set of standards for publishing data on physical activities in a consistent format. This is aimed at enabling providers to make the information more widely available to get more people taking more regular exercise.

The ODI hopes this will encourage the development of new apps and digital services to encourage people to take advantage of the possibilities.

Overseas efforts

In a nod towards overseas developments, the group pointed to the collaboration between the UK and France in a Data Taskforce to cooperate on open data. When it was announced last year the then Chancellor George Osborne said it could provide the basis for up to £42 million in economic growth.

Even though this projection was made before the UK’s vote to leave the EU, Axelle Laemaire, the French minister for digital affairs and innovation, said it is the type of cooperation that will be needed post-Brexit.

“It’s building the future around new notions,” she said. “It’s the kind of answer we can have post-Brexit.”

She said that European authorities – in France, Germany and the EU – are now looking at the relationship between the data held by large companies and how it can contribute to a dominant position in the market, and the potential to open it up for wide re-use.

“There is a trend in competition thinking now that by opening the data we are opening up the market,” she said.


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