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MPs say Whitehall data still stuck in silos



Science and Technology Committee calls for 'right of access' for ONS and framework to audit data quality

Data silos in Government departments are still providing obstacles to the improvement of public services, a committee of MPs has warned.

In its new report, The Big Data Dilemma, the Science and Technology Committee praises the Government for huge progress in introducing open data, putting the UK “in a world-leading position”. But it also urges ministers to recognise “there is more to do to breakdown departmental data silos, to bring data together in order to further improve public services, as well as to improve data quality”.

Among its recommendations is that a “right of access to data” for the Office for National Statistics should be introduced, alongside a new framework to audit data quality and identify data sharing opportunities.

While the report investigates the broad scenario for the use of data in the UK economy, it says that Whitehall is still failing to make it easily available to support services.

It states: “There is more to do to break down departmental data silos, to bring data together in order to further improve public services, as well as to improve data quality.

“The Government should set out how it can build capacity to deliver more datasets, increasingly in real time, both to decision-makers in government and to external users and, in particular, should work to establish a right of access to data for the Office for National Statistics.

“The Government should also establish a framework - to be overseen by the Government Digital Service, the Office for National Statistics or another expert body - for auditing the quality of data within Government departments amenable for big data applications, and for proactively identifying data sharing opportunities to break departmental data silos.”

Infrastructure plan

In November the Cabinet Office announced plans to modernise the Government's data infrastructure, with aim of building data services around the needs of users rather than Whitehall, and creating an economy of application programme interfaces.

Speaking at the department's Sprint 16 event in London yesterday, Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock reitereated a need to ensure that government datasets are as open as possible and that the data is high quality.

The report also states that:

  • Big data is a “UK success story”, with the potential to add 58,000 jobs and £216bn to the UK economy over a five-year period.
  • Existing data is “nowhere near fully exploited” – with companies analysing just 12% of their data.
  • A big data revolution will need big improvements to digital skills, which are “approaching crisis levels” – including at local government level.
  • The failure of the initiative, for sharing patients’ health records, shows that patients’ consent “cannot be taken for granted”.
  • Businesses and governments that give people “greater control in their data transactions”, to decide exactly how far they are willing to go, will gain most.
  • The Government should introduce a criminal penalty for malicious data protection breaches – without awaiting implementation a new EU data protection regulation, due within the next two years.
  • That regulation appears to allow data to be re-used, and de-anonymised, if “legitimate interests” or “public interest” are invoked - an issue that “urgently needs to be addressed”.
  • A 'kitemark’ developed by the Information Commissioner identifying good data practice should be used widely.

Nicola Blackwood MP (pictured), the committee’s Conservative chairwoman, said: “The use of ‘big data’ is already bringing big benefits.

“Exploited further, big data will be transformative, unlocking new life-saving research and creating unimagined opportunities for innovation. The Government has a role in this, in sharing and opening up its own data.”

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