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Don’t backtrack on digital agenda, urges think tank

The government has been urged not to back down from pursuing its digital agenda. A new report by leading think tank Policy Exchange says that all non-personal data held by the public sector should be made available to the public for free. There are concerns that narrow departmental interests and resistance to openness in some parts of the public sector could block such a proposal, which could provide a much needed boost to the economy.

The report – A Right to Data – says that ending the practice of reselling key datasets like maps and postcodes would cost the government around £50 million a year in lost fees and charges. The overall benefits of opening up all publicly held data would far outweigh this, with some estimates suggesting that the upside for the economy could run into the billions of pounds. Entrepreneurs could use this data to create a wealth of new products and services of value to both businesses and consumers. It calls for the government to enshrine a "right to data" in legislation within the lifetime of this Parliament.

The report makes it clear that important protections for personal data, national security and Ministerial advice should be incorporated into the legislation.

Opening up public data so that it can be linked, analysed and made useful could provide a huge economic and social boost. Data on travel and transit networks is already being used in apps and services that help people make quicker, cheaper journeys – and there is still potential for further improvement. Opening up core reference data like maps and postcodes, along with data on planning applications, local amenities and business registrations, could enable new and innovative services for property search and valuation.

Chris Yiu, Head of Digital Government at Policy Exchange, “There is no longer any reasonable justification for keeping publicly funded data under lock and key. The potential for an open data revolution to transform and enhance our economy, society and public services is within touching distance.”

Tim Kelsey, Director of Transparency and Open Data for HM Government, who wrote a foreword to the report, “Sharing data may turn out to be the most important public policy of our time. The British government has put it at the heart of its agenda. It is key to accountability and choice but also to transforming public services and promoting social innovation and economic growth.”

For further information or to receive a full copy of the report please contact Nick Faith on 07960 996 233 or at nick.faith@policyexchange.org.uk

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