Tories and Open Gov


There’s a new government across the pond with Tory leader David Cameron as Prime Minister. Worth noting is that our friend Tom Steinberg (mySociety) signed on as an adviser to the Tories last year. Tom is a brilliant open government innovator and some of his ideas can be seen in the “Technology Manifesto” presented by the Tories a few months ago. One of the items in the manifesto is very similar to both the Open Government Initiative begun by President Barack Obama and the yet-to-be-enacted Public Online Information Act (POIA):

Legislating to enshrine the freedom of government data and create a powerful new ‘Right to Government Data’, enabling the public to request – and receive – government datasets. This will radically increase the amount of government data released – and will provide a multi-billion pound boost to the UK economy. President Obama’s administration has already implemented a ‘Right to Data’ policy.

Legislating this “Right to Data” is vital for those who support an open government. That’s why we support the passage into law of the POIA bill that has been introduced in both chambers of Congress here in the United States. Another proposal offered in the manifesto is also excellent:

Publishing online every item of central government and Quango[1] spending over £25,000 – including every contract in full. This will create new jobs by opening up government procurement to more SMEs. We will also publish online every item of local government spending over £500 – including every contract in full. In addition, detailed information on the salaries of senior civil servants and local council officials will be published online.

The Tories have also promised to use open source software “as much as possible.” Another proposal is to allow the public to comment on all legislation before it is debated. This includes the ability to rewrite and reject parts of the legislation.

Hague will say: “A public reading stage for new legislation will throw open the doors of parliament and enable the public to play a role in the legislative process.” The party leadership believes its plan is an example of the “post-bureaucratic age” – a phrase first used by supporters of Bill Clinton, suggesting that in the age of the internet voters can exercise a greater influence on figures in authority.

I’m not sure how much the public input will be taken into consideration once a bill reaches the debating stage in Parliament or whether there is any binding nature to the revisions made by the public. While I’m supportive of providing time and space for people to give their input on legislation there are numerous problems with requiring that input to be adopted in the legislation. In general, there ought to be more input from the broader public in the legislative process. Depending on how this policy is structured it could be a very useful tool or an obstacle in the legislative process.

All of the other proposals are outstanding just as they are. Hopefully the new government follows through on their promises.

1 Quango is an acronym for a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization. For more information, click here.