Maude accuses councils of data access sabotage


Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has accused some local authorities of deliberately flouting the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act,

"I'm sorry to say that some councils spend time and money deliberately making data unusable to anyone else," he said in a speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

To prevent this, he said the Act will be amended to specify that all data released to the public is provided in a reusable and machine-readable format. Maude's aim is to ensure that the information can be accessed by everyone in a form that can be downloaded and exploited for social and commercial purposes.

This echoes the unbinding of the National Archives under an Open Government Licence as announced last week being rolled out to local authorities.

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) authority has already begun putting the Cabinet Office's directive into action. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles pointed out a guide has been published to help councils make information access transparent and standards compliant.

Pickles also addressed how his own department's spending could be tackled to set an example for local authorities to follow. His first act was to tackle accountability by publishing all CLG spending over 500.

He also said he intends to implement suggestions gleaned from the Government's recent online Spending Challenge. This was a "crowdsourcing" exercise where public sector workers and the public were invited to share their ideas on where public spending cuts could be made.

The CLG has set out to cut 780 million from its annual spend. "Today I'm implementing the best austerity ideas from CLG staff: from cutting catering, to only using second-class stamps, to more double-sided printing. These show there are thriftier and smarter ways to use taxpayers' money in the future," Pickles said.

Other IT cuts will include a reduction in the number of BlackBerry smartphones issued and a limit of one printer or photocopier to each floor of the CLG offices.

"I can't expect councils to cut waste if we don't get our own house in order," he said.