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Public excluded from government data – PAC

Government data needs to be made easier to access and to understand, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned.

The committee said that government data produced for public consumption must be “easy to understand”.

PAC’s report, ‘Implementing the Transparency Agenda’, commended the Government’s efforts in accountability and data publication as “inherently strong” but also said that there was more progress to be made.

Concerns were raised about inconsistencies between the qualities of different sets of information. Crime maps and the school performance website were highlighted as successfully implemented measures, but information on the cost and performance of adult social care was seen as sub-par.

The committee said: “It does not help government to meet the objectives of the transparency agenda when large quantities of raw data are released without ensuring that the data are fit for purpose.”

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the PAC, said: “It is simply not good enough to dump large quantities of raw data into the public domain. It must be accessible, relevant and easy for us all to understand. Otherwise the public cannot use it to make comparisons and exercise choice, which is the key objective of the transparency agenda.”

The report highlights that eight million adults are without internet access, and therefore a lot of government data. Many in this group are elderly, disabled or on low incomes, and the committee has expressed concern that people who stand to gain the most from government data are being excluded from it.

The PAC report also calls for a “level playing field” of transparency, drawing attention to private providers of public services hiding behind “commercial confidentiality” to prevent information disclosure.

In addition, the Government is facing calls to implement a consistent policy on charges for data and provide analysis on the costs, benefits and risks of data availability.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: “This is the most transparent government in British history and we are leading the world on this agenda. We thank the committee for their support and will carefully review their report before responding.”

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