Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens

APPSI chief comes out swinging against lack of government information/data policy

Richard Susskind, head of the government’s Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information, has been rather critical of government’s lack of strategy over PSI. We’ll have a longer interview with him in the paper on Thursday, but meanwhile here’s some extracts from a position paper (or lack of position paper?) that he has just completed. You can find it on the APPSI’s “Papers for Ministers” slot, or linked below here on the site.

“This paper is written primarily for Ministers who have a direct interest in or responsibility for the re-use of public sector information. It considers why and how the Government should formulate an explicit strategy for the re-use of PSI”

, it begins.

and continues:

“There has been growing recognition in recent years that this information (for example, geographical, meteorological and statistical information) constitutes a resource of great potential value; that public information is an asset, an intellectual asset, that should not be seen as usable for one purpose only. Instead, it is argued, this information can and should be made available for re-use (a recycling of sorts).”

Under current obstacles, he identifies

  • disagreement over the value of reuse (“APPSI strongly and confidently challenges the OFT”): Susskind says that “APPSI argues that the impact of the re-use of PSI is very significantly understated in that document and is better understood not by calculating the revenue generated by licensing PSI but by identifying the extent to which businesses and institutions rely on PSI.”
  • unclear government priorities: does it want to cash in on PSI to reduce the net public expenditure, or strengthen UK industry’s competitiveness?
  • There has been no single focal point for PSI, at Ministerial level, to ensure coherence across the public sector.” (This was one of the remarks made – with some amazement – by Derek Wyatt at the RSA/Free Our Data debate in summer 2006.)
  • The rapid growth of the Internet and emerging online developments may render current policy out of date.” (Already has, we would argue: the internet tends to make available any data and information resource that is reliable and free and elevate them above paid-for resources.)
  • There is significant disagreement over charging policy.” That is: “Some support trading funds and their sale of PSI in the manner of private sector businesses. Others argue for making PSI available at no cost or marginal cost. And still others make a case between these two poles.” Could he possibly mean us?
  • most damning, “There has been, until recently, little interest in the re-use of PSI amongst most Ministers and senior officials.” Although, he adds approvingly, “Recent ministerial interest suggests this may be a problem of the past.” Certainly if the response from Michael Wills is anything to go by.

The question of privatising some of the trading funds (first in line might be UK Hydrographic Office) is moot, he says, “in the absence of clearer underpinning policy” [on PSI]. That is, if you don’t know quite how valuable your PSI is – and what UKHO generates is definitely public-, not private-sector information – then you can’t make an informed decision about whether the taxpayer (who is the present shareholder in UKHO) will benefit from privatising it. If you reduce the shareholding to those who buy the shares in the privatised company, does that benefit the people who used to own it (us) by more than we lose?

His short-term list of jobs for the government is that within a year, the Government should:

  1. undertake or commission a robust analysis of the actual and potential impact

of PSI re-use on the UK economy and society, supported by plausible


  • prioritise clearly which classes of re-user should be the prime beneficiaries
  • and identify what tangible benefits it expects to accrue;

  • nominate a senior Minister to champion the systematic and coherent re-use of PSI across the public sector;
  • assess the impact on PSI re-use of existing and emerging Internet-based technologies, especially Web 2.0;
  • revisit charging policy in relation to the licensing of PSI with particular
  • reference to trading funds 6; [already being done; report due November 22 – CA]

  • increase awareness of the impact and value of PSI within and beyond the
  • public sector.

    As I said, we’ll have a longer interview with Richard Susskind in Thursday’s issue. Meanwhile, you can read the document from here on the site.

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