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UK government opens up more public data to drive 'Information Economy'

1.6 million small and medium sized businesses will benefit from better access to public data

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The UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has announced plans to open up more government datasets, providing the raw material for technology companies and developers to create apps and data-led businesses. 

The government first unveiled its open data initiative in November 2011, claiming that the move would aid economic growth, transport and healthcare. 

Today's news was announced at the G8 Innovation Conference in London as part of the government's wider Information Economy Strategy, which aims to generate fresh growth opportunities for some of the UK’s most innovative technology businesses.

In particular, BIS said it would release datasets from the Charity Commission, giving unprecedented access to information on the operation of charities. This and other information will enable citizens to make more informed decisions on how they donate, invest and spend.

HM Revenue & Customs has also committed itself to a public consultation this summer on releasing parts of the VAT register as open data, and Land Registry has confirmed it is to publish historical Price Paid Data (PPD) in CSV format as linked data from July.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts told Techworld that publicly-funded data and research findings should be made available to as many people as possible. However, he admitted that there are still some technical issues around interoperability that need to be resolved.

“I see this as the modern form of librarianship – ensuring that as we had the Dewey Decimal System to know we could all find the books, now we need much clearer systems to enable other researchers to access the data, and we're willing to pay for some of that out of research grants and research funding,” said Willets.

The Information Economy Strategy also sets out plans to bring together academia and business to develop a digital skills strategy in a sector which employs over 1.5 million people in the UK.

This will include the promotion of innovative teaching tools in schools, encouraging more young people (especially girls) to pursue jobs in the information economy, and creating a programme of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) for computing and data science.

“More than any time in history our world is being shaped by innovation, new ideas, new technologies and new companies. This is the story of the global economy,” said Prime Minister David Cameron.

“Countries around the world have got to get this. Jobs and growth depend on it. We’ve all got to open up our economies to innovation, we’ve got to nurture new ideas, we’ve got to bend over backwards to attract the best and the brightest. A global race is underway and it is waiting for absolutely no one.”

Other key actions include “digitally transforming” 25 of the top 50 public services over the next 300 days – including plans to give businesses a single, online view of their tax records – and launching a new programme to help 1.6 million SMEs scale up their business online over the next five years.

BIS will publish a data capability strategy in October 2013, building on the recommendations in Stephan Shakespeare’s review of Public Sector Information and the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology’s report on algorithms.

“Open data is a critical part of the data-led revolution that is transforming how we live and work. It is a building block for prosperity and more effective public services,” said Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude.

“Working with data users, we will identify the data we hold that should be part of that new National Information Infrastructure. This data will be available for release to support economic growth and the developers and entrepreneurs who use open data to build information-led businesses – helping us compete in the global race.”


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