UK government called on to harness power of data

Out-Law News | 22 Jul 2019 | 2:17 pm | 2 min. read

Leading figures from across the data industry have called on the UK government to ensure its forthcoming national data strategy delivers "transformative" and not "incremental" change in the way organisations use data.

Leading figures from across the data industry have called on the UK government to ensure its forthcoming national data strategy delivers "transformative" and not "incremental" change in the way organisations use data.

In an open letter to Jeremy Wright, the secretary of state for digital, representatives from bodies including the Institute for Government, Open Data Institute, Nesta and the Royal Statistical Society warned that the UK "risks falling behind other countries over the next decade" if a "major and sustained effort" is not made to transform how data is used.

"Better use of data across the public, private and third sectors will help people across the country hold government to account, give them confidence that they are using trustworthy services, and allow them to make decisions that improve their local communities," the letter said. "Moreover, it will create new organisations and increase productivity and innovation in existing ones."

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) held a call for evidence on the proposed new national data strategy between 10 June and 14 July. It said at the time that it will use the evidence gathered to draft the strategy and that it will then open a full consultation on its proposals.

In their letter, the data industry figures said that the government must earn the public's trust over data use.

Colvin Simon

Simon Colvin

Partner, Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms

The public need to see better use of, and have greater confidence in, how data are treated, shared and used

"Debate and discussion about the appropriate extent of using citizens' data within government needs to be had in public, with the public," the letter said. "Great public benefit can come from more joined-up use of data in government and between government and other sectors. But this will only be possible, sustainable, secure and ethical with appropriate safeguards, transparency, mitigation of risks and public support."

The industry figures also said the national data strategy should be led "from the very top" of UK's government and civil service, and that the strategy should present a vision for transformative change over at least 10 years, with "practical steps for turning that ambition into a reality" included too to underpin that vision.

The letter recommended that "unique open identifiers" are attached to government data as a way in which to improve the UK's "data infrastructure".

The lobbyists also urged the government to invest in data that allows it to "better understand its own operations, the effectiveness of its policies, the quality of public services and key facts about its population and the economy", and said an investment in skills is also required to ensure data can be converted into "real information that can be acted upon".

Technology law expert Simon Colvin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, welcomed the proposal from DCMS for a national data strategy.

"Given the huge data lakes the government is holding, and will build potentially exponentially in the future, both the government and the public need to see better use of, and have greater confidence in, how data are treated, shared and used as a key asset for delivery of world class public services," he said.

"There are a host of frameworks and projects within government focusing on this, such as the Digital Economy Act, creating a legal framework for data sharing across government and with the private sector, but ensuring that all data is managed through a transparent and coordinated strategy will be key," he said. "It’s clear that industry wants to have a voice and good to see bodies such as TechUK responding to the consultation."