Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has urged the Cabinet Office to identify 10 data standards to be used in all new government systems from April of next year.
The recommendation comes in a report, Challenges in using data across government, that highlights shortcomings and says the Government needs to create a ‘step change’ in its approach to data.
This has come three months after the National Audit produced a critical report of the Government’s performance in the area, and coincides with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) consultation on the development of a new National Data Strategy.
One of the main criticisms is that the Cabinet Office has not developed a useful set of standards to support the effective use of data across government. There are over 20 ways of identifying individuals and businesses, and efforts to develop standards are moving slowly, with no plan for how they should be used.
In addition, there is no mandate across government to comply with the standards.
This prompts the committee to call on the Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service (GDS) to identify and prioritise the top 10 data standards that would benefit government; then specify their use in new systems from April 2020 and monitor implementation by departments.
On a broader front, the PAC says previous initiatives to improve the use of data across government barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done and have not delivered the benefits promised. Among the shortcomings are ageing IT systems, fragmented leadership and a Civil Service culture that is still resistant to sharing data between departments.
A problem in leadership emerges from DCMS being responsible for data policy while GDS in the Cabinet Office is responsible for data standards. In addition, there have been reports of permanent secretaries not taking sufficient interest in the Data Advisory Board.
In response, it calls for the Cabinet Office and DCMS to move quickly in appointing a chief data officer for government to act as a single point of accountability. The search officially began last week but it is currently unclear when an appointment is likely to be made.
Along with this, the report notes that progress in developing the National Data Strategy has been slow since it was announced in June of last year, and says the Cabinet Office should write to the PAC by the end of next March setting out priorities, milestones and accountabilities in the plan to improve the use of data.
Other recommendations are that:
The DCMS and Cabinet Office should check progress against their plans and review the merits of mandating a consistent approach. They should make sure that the strategy includes ways to monitor compliance and that the chief data officer should hold departments to account.
They should identity the main ageing IT systems that, if fixed, would allow government to use data better, and ensure the relevant departments take this into account when replacing or modifying them.
DCMS should review departments’ data sharing guidance and standard operating processes, and report on how well they support the wider use of data by the end of June 2020.
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