Posts Tagged ‘public expenditure’

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The Good, the Sad and the Nerdy

In Politics on April 22, 2010 by datanamics Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I do hope that most of you have paid attention to the first British election debate held last week on national television. The leaders of the three main parties were invited to discuss questions asked by a sample of British citizens and selected beforehand by broadcasters.
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A fortnight before the main event, a set of 76 detailed rules were announced, to prevent from any kind of uneven treatment. Just like for any other political live debate, the issue of airtime was most crucial. Besides, I found it worthy of interest that the audience was carefully selected in order not to favour a political party over the other two.  It was ensured that at least 80% of them declared a voting intent, with the final selection to ensure a ratio of 7:7:5 between Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters. Those showing a voting preference for minor parties (Green, BNP, UKIP) were represented as well.
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Many issues were addressed in this first electoral debate : Education, Immigration, Law and Order, NHS, Family, Defence… The full house, pretty much. But data, Internet, that we didn’t have. It wasn’t much of a surprise though, to be honest. It is likely that average Joes don’t care much about the wonders of database journalism that lie ahead of us. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t believe that the candidates are not fully aware of the issue, and the political interest at stake.
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Mark my words:who will best tackle the data issue?

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LABOUR PARTY
Gordon Brown, if not the coolest-looking lad in town, was actually the first one to embrace the data gathering process. Beyond mere lip service, the Scot launched in January a gateway for UK government statistics – data.gov.uk – with the cooperation of the Godfather of Web Tim Berners-Lee. An digital offer you can’t refuse, I suppose. Data held so far by public bodies was made available to download for crime, environment or health related queries. At launch, Data.gov.uk had nearly 3,000 data sets available for developers to build mashups with, ReadWriteWeb reveals. Using Sparql queries, the project is a milestone in the UK transparency movement.
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The project follows the footsteps of Where Does My Money Go, an interactive visualization tool based on data retrieved from the HM Treasury in late 2009.
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Da-tax heaven : “Where Does My Money Go ?”
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Labour Manifesto :
View here the Manifesto set by Gordon Brown for this General Election.
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Quote:  “Citizens expect their public services to be transparent, interactive and easily accessible. We will open up government, embedding access to information and data into the very fabric of public services. Citizens should be able to compare local services, demand improvements, choose between providers, and hold government to account.” (page 65)
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Grade : A+, for championing the devolution of energy on this issue. Data-based technologies are seen as a powerful tool to help people access knowledge.
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Top Words : Labour Manifesto Deciphered (source : Guardian Datablog)

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CONSERVATIVE PARTY
On their side, the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, have committed themselves to further government data unlocking, should they be elected. As underlined by Simon Rogers, from the Guardian Datablog, their promises include :
• Publish all government datasets in full or online
• Legislate to create a right to government data
• Publish ultra-local data on crime, health and education
• Publish every item of local and government and quango expenditure over £25,000, plus every project that receives EU funds
• Publish all procurement tender documents for contracts worth over £10,000
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This implies going beyond the Labour’s already substantial offer. For example, a database such as Where Does My Money Go would go through a solid makeover. What is now taking hours of raw data collecting would be available in the blink of an eye :
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In The Now : UK Public Spending Unleashed by The Guardian Datablog

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In the aftermath of the MP expenses scandal and the unauthorized publication of detailed expenditure, full data unlocking is far from granted. Shadow chancellor George Osborne has already promised to make available the Treasury Coins database, the confidential detailed analysis of departmental expenditure. However, there remain significant hurdles before this happens. The Treasury opposes this request as long as intellectual property rights and commercial confidentiality are not guaranteed. On a technical side, it is unlikely the 23 millions line of raw data will be turned into self-speaking, breath-taking visualizations overnight.
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Conservatives Manifesto :
View here the Manifesto set by David Cameron for this General Election.
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Quote: “We will publish details of the money government spends and the people it employs. People will have a right to government data to make the performance of the state transparent. We will cut the unaccountable quango state and root out waste.” (page 169)
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Grade : B, for the obvious willingness to make change happen, despite a slight lack of technical guidelines.
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Top Words : Conservative Manifesto Deciphered (source : Guardian Datablog)

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LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PARTY
Last in line, but ahead in the polls, the Liberal Democrats gave little indication of what they have up their sleeve for the UK technology industry. The party led by Nick Clegg acknowledges the need for government services to share more of their data, insisting on social and health services and the police.
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However, the  manifesto dramatically lacks technical details on how to proceed. Likewise, it is not revealed whether or not the sharing of data should be underpinned by a central IT system.  In the meantime, the party has repeatedly criticised the government’s record on privacy, and made references to plans to strengthen the Data Protection Act.
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LibDem Manifesto
View here the Manifesto set by Nick Clegg for this General Election.
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Quote: “Liberal Democrats will protect and restore your freedoms. We will (…) scrap the intrusive ContactPoint database which is intended to hold the details of every child in England.” (page 94)
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Grade : C, for their lack of actual involvement in the issue, therefore failing to fully grasp how data unleashing could serve their purpose of “Building a Fairer Britain”.
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Top Words : Lib Dems Speech Deciphered (source Blogreuters.com)

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