ODI argues data must be part of critical infrastructure plans
Institute responds to latest Autumn Statement with concerns about a lack of significant consideration for how data will underpin and drive transformation aims
With Chancellor Philip Hammond using yesterday’s Autumn Statement to commit funding and support for what he called “world class” digital infrastructure, concerns have been raised about a perceived lack of recognition of the importance of data in realising such ambitions.
In a response to what was dubbed the chancellor’s first and last Autumn Statement, the Open Data Institute (ODI) called on the government to “build on its successes” in trying to put in place stronger data infrastructure to meet ambitions for the emerging digital economy. The institute said a failure to do so would see the UK falling behind other nations in an ongoing global race to lead data-led innovation and services.
“Data is vital infrastructure for our society and a competitive advantage for a 21st century economy. It is an under-recognised piece of critical national infrastructure that needs government focus and support,” said the ODI in its post statement briefing.
In opting to replace the traditional Autumn Statement with a full budget update in 2017, the ODI called on the chancellor to have a clearer action plan and provide finances to put in place a strategy on how to capitalise on and open up more data from a wider number of services.
“The government will soon be publishing its strategies for industry, digital and data. These strategies and the March (2017) budget provide an opportunity for the government to show that it understands the value of data and how to work with the private and third sectors to use that data to benefit the whole country,” said the group.
Citing a current age of “data abundance”, the ODI argued that making data infrastructure as open as possible while ensuring citizen privacy was the best way to impact on service design and provision.
“In the Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond announced plans to build more roads. This is good news for drivers in many areas, but plans were not announced for how the government will use data to improve transport. Physical infrastructure needs data infrastructure. Both are economically productive,” said the group.
According to the ODI, following the experience in London where opening up public sector transport data was seen to improve the impact of investment, the government has recognised there may be similar advantages in overhauling bus services , as well as highways management, with an open-data led approach.
“Some investment is certainly needed, especially in the creakier parts of our transport infrastructure outside of the Southeast,” said the institute. “But improvements to data infrastructure will be quicker to deploy across the whole of the UK than new roads (after all, the M25 – London’s orbital motorway – had a 50-year history between its first plans and first car), will reduce the demand for expensive physical infrastructure and position the UK to be a leader in future transport services.”
In looking at housing, another key policy area in the statement, the ODI claimed there remained a lack of access to data sets that could support government and industry.
“It is difficult to determine who owns a piece of land, the terms on a leasehold or how effective a conveyancing agency is. This data is held by a range of government organisations,” wrote the institute.
However, the ODI argued that opening up data would support local authorities with planning and construction strategy, as well as companies and home buyers to streamline their own decision making processes.
The institute pointed to existing work by Whitehall bodies such as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to open up its information, requesting other ministries take its lead, as well as significant non ministerial departments like the Land Registry and Ordnance Survey that provide significant data services.
The ODI did praise the announcement within the Autumn Statement that the Land Registry would remain in the public sector after a recent consultation looking at possible forms of privatisation for its operations. The institute said while the Autumn Statement pledged to make the Land Registry a more digital data-driven business, it did not note how key information was “tangled” up with Ordnance Survey, limiting potential impacts of more combined or interoperable sets.
“The government needs to commit to making all of these organisations open. This will make it easier for government to work with the private and third sectors and use this data to help with the UK’s housing crisis,” said the organisation.
Citing one of headline proposals set out by the chancellor yesterday around the formation of a £23bn productivity investment fund to try and outline and support innovation and infrastructure improvements, the ODI raised concerns about the need for a supporting data strategy.
“To take just one example, artificial intelligence is built by people from software and data, and leading in artificial intelligence requires the UK to lead in data,” said the institute. “The countries that lead in this area will combine skills with data, build trust through openness and focus on solving problems. The new R&D fund needs to invest in data as well as technology.”