opendatastudy

Research on Open Data and Transparency


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United Kingdom End of Term Report 2013-2015

index

My OGP IRM report is here for public comment on the UK government’s Second National Action Plan. Here’ s a summary:

The UK’s second action plan commitments on beneficial ownership, aid transparency, Sciencewise, and OpenDataCommunities are some examples of major contributions to government openness. Four commitments were closer to completion. However, progress overall in the rest of commitments was sustained from the assessment at mid-term. The third action plan has several commitments that flow from two priority areas and star commitments including beneficial ownership and extractives.”

You have until 18th January to offer any thoughts either via the page or by email to to irm@opengovpartnership.org.

 


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New Transparency International Report: ‘Counting The Pennies’

recall

See the new report here

Key statistics in “Counting the pennies: increasing the transparency in the UK’s public finances” include:

  • £2.312 trillion – Total value of published transactions made by local and central government (2011-2015).
  • £14 million – Redacted transaction data reported in a single month by Hackney London Borough Council that did not identify suppliers – largest in this research.
  • 35% – Proportion of contracts awarded where it is unclear who the supplier is.
  • 81,057 – Different descriptions given to transactions making analysis of data near impossible
  • 75% – Proportion of transactions that contain company registration numbers.


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New Paper: Freedom of Information and the Media

vivre-la-foi-agenda-727x412Abstract:

The media are a powerful constituency of users, lobbyists and defenders of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. Looking at FOI regimes across the world, it argues that the media are important users but also powerful innovators and defenders. This chapter examines how journalists use the laws in the UK and work to protect and extend it. It also looks at how media use is seen to damage trust in the political system and can generate resistance from government. It ends by arguing that FOI must be viewed in context and now fits within a rapidly changing information eco-system and a shifting and hybrid media environment.

 

Download here


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International Conference “Academic Days on Open Government Issues Journées universitaires sur les enjeux du Gouvernement ouvert”. December 5 & 6, 2016 – Paris, France

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International Conference
“Academic Days on Open Government Issues
Journées universitaires sur les enjeux du Gouvernement ouvert”.
December 5 & 6, 2016 – Paris, France

Under the direction of
Irène Bouhadana William Gilles

Call for Papers

On December 5 & 6, 2016, the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and IMODEV organize an international conference entitled “Academic Days on Open Government Issues”. This international event, under the direction of Irene Bouhadana and William Gilles, will be the 17th edition in a series ofIMODEV international conferences on the Law and Governance of the Information Society.These academic days will be organized during the week dedicated to the theme since France, as chair of Open Government Partership, will host the Open Government Global Summit in December 2016.

These Academic days aim to bring together all of academia concerned with issues related to open government by favoring a broad and multidisciplinary dimension. One of the goals of the open government process is to promote greater transparency and encourage citizen participation and collaboration in government decision-making, but also to promote government accountability. In this perspective, it is important to emphasize the role of citizens, civil society and stakeholders in decision-making to improve government policies.

see the details CFP long EN v7

Appel à contribution – Call for Papers

Les 5 et 6 décembre 2016, l’Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne et l’IMODEV organiseront une conférence internationale intitulée « Academic Days on Open Government Issues – Journées universitaires sur les enjeux des gouvernements ouverts ». Sous la direction d’Irène Bouhadana et William Gilles, cette manifestation à caractère scientifique sera la 17e édition des conférences internationales de l’IMODEV sur le droit et la gouvernance de la société de l’information.

Ces journées universitaires seront organisées au cours de la semaine pendant laquelle la France accueillera le Sommet mondial 2016 sur les gouvernements ouverts. Cet événement a pour objectif de réunir l’ensemble du monde universitaire concerné par les enjeux relatifs aux gouvernements ouverts en privilégiant une dimension large et pluridisciplinaire.

L’un des objectifs du processus des gouvernements ouverts est de promouvoir une plus grande transparence, d’encourager la participation citoyenne et la collaboration dans la prise de décision gouvernementale, mais aussi de favoriser la responsabilisation du gouvernement. Dans cette perspective, il importe de mettre l’accent sur le rôle des citoyens, de la société civile, et des parties prenantes aux processus de décision pour améliorer les politiques gouvernementales.

 


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Continue, Start, Stop: Reflections on the Third National Action Plan

imagesOn the 12 May the government launched its third open government National Action plan for the OGP. It’s an interesting mixture, so here’s a quick overview of what’s ongoing, what’s new and what’s not there:

Continuing: despite David Cameron’s own difficulties over tax, his push over international tax transparency and anti-corruption continues. Perhaps the most high profile reform from the last national action plan was over Beneficial Ownership, a plan to make UK registered businesses open up data about who (really) owns them through a public register. We shall all be able to see this data very soon.

The new plan extends this principle to foreign companies who are either (i) buying property (ii) bidding for public contacts in the UK-see commitment 1. This is partly about tackling ‘dirty money’ in the UK property market and also about reacting to the Panama Papers.

The devil here is, as ever, in the detail. The consultation paper admits that finding effective sanctions for foreign businesses may be difficult. Opening up tax is truly a global struggle and how the reform fares may also depend on others. David Cameron admitted the US needed to be part of his ‘coalition of the committed’. Closer to home it seems some of the UK’s own tax haven territories and overseas dependencies have been less than enthusiastic about linking up their own registers-the Caymans called it pointless.  It remain to be seen whether super-rich foreign property investors will all flee London when the data appears.

It’s not the only policy to be carried over from the last NAP. Extractives Transparency and anti-corruption initiative are also still a part of the new plan. This series of international issues in the NAP may well be labelled David Cameron’s legacy policies.

Start: there are some new developments not seen in the last plan. Changes to the Freedom of Information Act, rather oddly absent last time round, are now included, with the new plan incorporating some of the recommendations from the Independent Commission on FOI, covering publication of data on FOI use and greater transparency over senior public sector salaries.

A rather nice ‘do they not do that already’? idea is commitment 7 to ‘develop a common data standard for reporting election results’. This could fit with some of the crowd-sourcing projects like Out for the Count that asked techy savvy election watchers to crowd-source the local and devolved election results in May 2016.

Stop: some areas are left untouched from the last plan. This table shows the commitments pushed by civil society and their status-the civil society network points to ‘open budgeting, lobbying transparency and transparency of surveillance’ as outstanding missing commitments. For me the lack of anything on surveillance is disappointing, while the seemingly never-to-be-resolved issue of lobbying and party funding transparency remains stuck. There’s no apparent movement on police records, despite recent controversy over the Hillsborough verdict on South Yorkshire police. However, all is not lost. The plan does offer new commitments that can to be added as it goes along: it is a ‘rolling action plan’ with the capability to ‘add commitments and milestones…over the next two years’.

Other welcome news is that Commitment 13 of the plan commits to ‘ongoing collaboration’ with local government and devolved bodies. The Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish governments have already been pushing ahead with their own Open Data agendas while local government (and some soon to be local government powerhouses) such as Greater Manchester have been pushing a series of experiments. Perhaps the most positive part of the new plan is not what is happening but who will be involved.


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Open Up or Shut Up? David Cameron’s Three Transparency Problems

Prime Minister David Cameron pauses during a news conference in Downing Street, central London.

(Huffington Post)

Promises of transparency often come back to haunt politicians. There’s an ever present danger that anyone promising or championing openness will, at some point, be hoisted by their own petard.  David Cameron is currently finding this out over his tax affairs.

In the US candidates and office holders regularly publish their tax returns as a matter of course, as well as their medical check-ups (except, it seems Donald Trump). You can see Hillary Clinton’s returns here and Bernie Sander’s (possibly not complete) ones here. Details of Obama’s falling income are on the White House website and you can see Reagan’s, Nixon’s, Truman’s and some of FDR’s on the great Tax History project site.

The tax and financial affairs of political leaders in the UK are a little less automatically public. This is fortunate for them, as many Prime Minister’s financial affairs have been rather questionable, less in law than in what it tells us about them, from the tangled finances of Lloyd George to Winston Churchill’s hand to mouth existence and vast spending (not to mention Tony Blair’s post office money making).

However, the tax affairs of politicians became a bigger issue in the 2012 London Mayoral Campaign, when Labour candidate Ken Livingstone was attacked for his arrangements. It cropped up again in this year’s contest when Zac Goldmsith released his returns following allegations of his non-dom status. It’s also become a little more common for senior politicians to publish and be damned-you can see Labour Chancellor John McDonnell’s returns here.

Cameron’s particular difficulties are not legal, as he has done nothing against the law, but rather presentational. First, in 2012 Cameron very clearly promised to publish his returns and was ‘said to be relaxed and happy’ about it-conveniently just when Ken Livingstone was having difficulties (though perhaps too relaxed as by 2015 they still weren’t published with no plans to do so). The media have been handed a very obvious promise to work with.

Second, he has made a very high profile bid to tackle tax evasion through Beneficial Ownership, and spoken out repeatedly against tax havens, not once but three times in this speech at the OGP summit in 2013 , in his letter to all British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in 2014 and his berating of tax havens again in 2015.  He also criticised various people involved in various types of evasion, including comedian Jimmy Carr and Take That (though he let Gary Barlow keep his OBE). More generally, in 2010, he promised ‘a transparency revolution’ and to make ‘our government one of the most open and transparent in the world’. This, of course, opens him up to charges of hypocrisy and double standards.

Finally, Cameron came close to falling into what you could call the Lyndon Johnson trap of being made to publically deny something. He spent 4-5 days appearing to evade full answers to questions about his tax, perilously close to Alastair Campbell’s seven day survivability test. It’s possible a full answer Sunday or Monday would have put it to rest, or at least made it look less worse.

So Cameron’s promises have come back to haunt him. YouGov shows his ratings have slipped to 2013 levels (and Ken has got his revenge by calling on him to resign and be sent to prison). He joins a long list of leaders from Woodrow Wilson to Tony Blair and Barack Obama who got trapped in their own transparency promises. He probably wishes he had been a little less open about being open.

Update: as of Sunday 10/4/2016  David Cameron has now published his tax returns, joined by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Pressure is now building on the Cabinet to do the same and, possibly, all MPs. Cameron isn’t out of the woods yet-questions have been raised about his ‘gift’ from his mother and he has been reported to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner