Government set to appoint chief data officer as it promises to open up data

Government unveils Transformation Strategy

The UK government will appoint a new chief data officer and data advisory board as part of its drive to develop a more efficient public service by ridding old systems and sharing data between departments, while promising a more “open government”, according to its Transformation Strategy.

The new chief data officer, which will be the first since Mike Bracken's departure in September 2015, will oversee the implementation of the government's new data strategy that includes greater data discovery tools, data-sharing and an opening up of data that could help businesses grow. The government did not specify who, or when, the new role will be enforced.

Bracken joined in March 2015, and was responsible for boosting Whitehall's data analysis skills, drawing up a new government-wide data standard, and promoting the use of data in decision-making. However, he stepped down six months later to become chief digital officer at the Co-operative group.

The much-delayed Transformation Strategy was originally set to be released in early 2016, but was delayed until after the EU Referendum. The report outlines how investment in the Government Digital Service - which was allocated £450m in the November 2015 Spending Review - will better transform the relationship between citizen and state by harnessing digital to build and deliver services.

In a foreword by Ben Gummer, minister for the Cabinet Office and paymaster general, the government official admitted it has "been slow to use the transformative potential of digital technology to change the way it does business", at a time when its organisation is "more complex and wide-reaching than ever before".

"The imperative is to change, therefore - and to do so at pace and at scale," he outlined.

A notable part of that change pivots on the government's use of data. Data is a “critical resource for enabling more efficient, effective government and public services that respond to users’ needs”, the document reads.

As such, the government will use predictive analytics to anticipate demand for services or policy changes and to prepare to meet citizens’ and businesses’ changing needs, informing ministers' decisions on what services to offer and how they should work.

It also promises to join together data from multiple public sector bodies, such as the DVLA, the Blue Badge scheme, and passport applications.

As part of its promise to make the manifesto “the most transparent government in the world”, it will release open government data “where appropriate” to spur innovation and economic growth. This will include additional, higher quality contracting data through its commitment to the Open Contracting Data Standard. Current services under the open data initiative that includes the Met office, transport services, and the Environment Agency.

To further reduce the levels of cyber security risk in its supply chain, the government will require many suppliers - such as those which handle sensitive or personal data - to adopt the Cyber Essentials scheme, which provides organisations with basic protection against the most common internet threats.

It will remove barriers to sharing data between different parts of the government, including ministerial departments, the health system, local authorities and devolved administrations, as part of the new Digital Economy Bill.

The Digital Economy Bill will “modernise legislation” to enable data access for defined public interest purposes within government. The bill, which is currently at House of Commons Report stage, will provide new legal mechanisms to support better use of data for tackling fraud error and debt, the sharing of civil registration information and producing better statistics and research.

The bill was passed by MPs last year, but aspects have provoked anger from the industry, including what they deem a superfluous law that will force pornographic websites to add age verification checks, and a new rule that bans anything from being made available online in the UK that wouldn't be allowed on a commercially available DVD.

The law has been criticised both by free speech advocates and security experts, who argue that the age verification measures could have an adverse effect on child protection online.

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