Welsh Government commits to being “more open”; AMs sceptical



(Title Image: Oxford University)

The Issue

“Open data” will have different meanings to different people, but while the Welsh Government have made a commitment to being “more open” with the information at their disposal, there have been long-standing criticisms of how, and how much, of that information is published.

On Tuesday (26th September), the Welsh Government held a debate on how they intend to take this forward, including the possibility of a law to encourage the entire Welsh public sector to make more information available to each other and the public.

While there was little said against the idea, AMs were somewhat sceptical based on progress (or lack of) made to date.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the Welsh Government’s commitment to open data through the publication our first ever Open Data Plan.
  • Notes the progress Welsh Government has made to date.
  • Supports the Welsh Government ambition to develop guidance through legislation that encourages greater use of open data across the public sector.
  • Supports the Welsh Government’s aim to promote openness and transparency in procurement.

Key Points

Minister for Skills & Science, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)

    • “Open data” (as referred to) only applies to non-personal and non-sensitive information.
    • Better use of data can help plan services to save money, improve efficiency and increase public participation.
    • The Welsh Government will encourage the public sector to be more innovative in how they use data or make it more useful for citizens. An example’s given on a mobile app listing food hygiene ratings.
    • Could not support increasing data openness by local authorities as it may put more pressure on their budgets.

Shadow Local Government Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy)
Support in principle: Long called for it but wants it to go further

  • The issue of data duplication or non-collection is raised “time and time again” with AMs.
  • Conservatives will push for local authorities to publish all expenditure.
  • The Welsh Government only responds to 46% of Freedom of Information requests.

 

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon)
Support in principle: Need more economic data

  • A lack of data “frustrates” the ability of opposition AMs to hold the government to account.
  • There are fewer points of data available to make comparisons between Wales and the rest of the UK.
  • Of particular concern is the lack of information about government spending and revenues (an equivalent of the Scottish GERS report).

 

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr)
Support in principle

  • Data should be presented in a way that’s useful to the public; Welsh Government spending over £25,000 requires you to go through page after page of spreadsheets to find what you want instead of a simple search.
  • An example’s offered whereby data should be automatically shared between different transport providers to better integrate bus and rail services.

 

Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP, South Wales Central)
Mixed views

  • Welsh Government aren’t being clear about what their aims are.
  • Staff have complained about how difficult it is to find information on the Welsh Government website.

 

 

Vote

An amended version of the motion, which called for more to be done to prevent data replication and more to be done to allow comparisons with other parts of the UK, was passed unanimously.