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Championing the better use of data

The GLA recently submitted a response to the Cabinet Office’s consultation on the better use of data in government. As the London Datastore team will attest, the ‘better use of data’ is a perpetual endeavour of the GLA’s Intelligence Unit – it’s the business we are in.

While we are a modest bunch, and not about to trip over our own hyperbole, there is no denying that data can be a powerful tool for organisations, helping them to make better decisions and operate more efficiently; greater data sharing in government and between public authorities can drive stronger exploitation of data to deliver benefits to society, public services and the economy.  There is a blog by the Head of the Civil Service, which makes these points well.

It was with the above in mind that the GLA launched “Data for London” – the London City Data Strategy, in March 2016.

The vision in the strategy is for a system in which friction in the sharing of city data is reduced to a minimum. We want to use data to save money, incubate innovation, and drive economic growth.  We are committed to optimising data use for the public benefit. It is not so fanciful to believe that those of us in the UK’s data-sharing community could achieve, or even set, international standards of best practice.  And along the way, we want to help make London the most dynamic and productive city data market in the world.

We recognise data as part of London’s infrastructure, and in our strategy have pushed for broader access to data across key government departments like DWP and HMRC.  With devolution heading in the direction of skills and business rates, the case for access to data of this variety grows stronger.  Regrettably, this is not something that falls within the scope of the Government’s current review. In fact, very little falls within the scope of this review at all.  We cannot help but think that a rare opportunity to make legislation to support the sharing of primary data is in danger of being passed over.

For London, access to the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR), among other existing administrative data sources, would give us a more complete understanding of the capital’s complex and changing business environment. With this data, the GLA could not only design policy that better reflects the needs of London businesses, but could use it to refine other initiatives, such as by targeting specific sectors to take on apprentices, or offer the London Living Wage.  A multiplicity of other social, economic, and service-based challenges that can be better met by making use of the riches of data that already exists can be added to the above.

It is not the Cabinet Office alone that is failing public authorities when it comes to data sharing. Most recently, the ONS has announced plans to further reduce access to the Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES), such that local authorities will no longer be able to make use of microdata. This further limits the scope for proper analysis of trends and research for policy development.

To achieve true impact with data – which if used properly is as much its own as it is the government’s, and the citizen’s – we need stronger support from central government and greater data access. Flipped on its head, why, when we have the means and the need, would we leave data unexploited and under-analysed?

This is why we, at the GLA, have called for the Cabinet Office to extend their consultation to not just address information sharing for the purposes of assisting those in fuel poverty, or to update records on births and deaths, but to incorporate the full array of data needs felt by public authorities.

There was a phrase used in the recent City Data Strategy – mild improvement by gentle increment.  This neatly encapsulates the approach proposed in the Government’s consultation.   We are far from gung-ho, but the tweaks and adjustments proposed in it will do little to encourage the value-driven exploitation of city data on the front line of public service delivery, and city policy making.

The GLA’s full response to the Cabinet Office’s ‘Better use of data’ consultation is available here.