John Gray has recently been conducting some rather interesting research on the degree of re-use actually being achieved at local government level in the UK pursuant to the Euro Directive on the Re-Use of Public Sector Information (Statutory Instrument SI 2005/1515) which came into force in July 2005. The aim of the directive was to encourage the re-use of public sector information for both commercial and social purposes as part of a wider programme of stimulating the ‘knowledge economy’.

In order to investigate what it is actually happening at the local authority level John has heroically set about writing to all 426 local authorities. His summary of his results make interesting reading:

The replies received from the Local Authorities are disturbing in that:

  • Over 40% have failed to offer the simple courtesy of a reply.
  • 75% of those who have replied – have FAILED to comply with the Euro
  • On the part of Local Authorities there seems to be a very high degree
    of confusion between the management of FOI (Freedom of Information)
    and the re-use of PSI (Public Sector Information).

The Survey of all 426 Local Authorities clearly indicates that although
Central Government resources have been allocated to promoting the needs of
the Euro Directive – through OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information);
APPSI (Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information) and the Office of the
Information Commissioner, acceptance at an operational level with UK Local
Authorities is at best poor and at worst – non existent.

Clearly much remains to be done if the directive is going to deliver on its promise to unlock the value of public sector information. In my view, one of the big problems is the current obsession with IP which means that local government is frequently both:

  • Uncertain about what they can do with their data (who else has rights in it).
  • Anxious not to ‘give away’ anything that could generate revenue.

It would make a big start on the problem if a straightforward default of openness was imposed for all non-personal data — via blanket application of the basic click-use license, for example. Whatever the case the current regime is unsatisfactory, as John put it in his email to me (I couldn’t have put it better):

Local Government forms a bedrock of Public Administration in the UK and is one of the main conduits by which Governance impacts upon the citizen.

In view of such, it is rather disconcerting to note how the Local Government sector seem to have almost totally ignored the open information rights that were and are a fundamental precept of the Euro Directive.

Additional Materials

For convenience we have posted the full text of John Gray’s summary, as well as all additional materials, online at:

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Rufus Pollock is Founder and President of Open Knowledge.