UK Politics

Cameron hails 'revolutionary' Whitehall data website

David Cameron has launched a website where departments set out business plans and timetables to achieve them.

He said it was a "complete revolution in how government operates" and would allow people to check on the progress of policies on a month-by-month basis.

The PM said the old "target culture" had encouraged short-term thinking.

But Labour's Liam Byrne warned against "ripping up targets" without an alternative in place to guarantee public service standards.

The transparency website brings together a range of information - including basic details of ministers' meetings, hospitality, gifts and overseas travel, timetables for implementing policies, staffing structures and salary ranges for top civil servants, some of which was already publicly available but was published separately.

Other information - like how much individual police forces cost each taxpayer, how many under 18s get pregnant in different areas, what percentage of people released from prison commit another crime across different local authorities and how much it costs to produce and issue a passport - will be published over the course of 2011/2.

Mr Cameron launched the website surrounded by cabinet members and flanked by deputy PM Nick Clegg and the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell - the head of the civil service.

The PM said it would be a move towards greater transparency in Whitehall, part of a "power shift" giving people enough information to hold government to account.

Each department will have to produce a monthly progress report - and the secretary of state will have to account to the prime minister if they are not on track.

The departments' business plans show when they are due to start, due to end and what progress has been made.

It also shows that three projects are already overdue - two at the Cabinet Office relating to publishing details of big IT projects and guidance about the cost of IT projects, and a Ministry of Justice strategy to reduce re-offending and improve rehabilitation - which was due in October.

Mr Cameron acknowledged that the information might create "a rod for our own back" when people noticed missed targets but said the publication was "good management".

He said "bureaucratic accountability" under Labour had "bred bureaucracy", created inefficiency, crushed morale in the public sector and encouraged people to go for "short term wins".

"Instead of bureaucratic accountability to the government machine, these business plans aim to bring in a new system of democratic accountability, accountability to the people."

Targets vs milestones

"So reform will be driven not by the short term political calculations of the government but by the consistent long-term pressure of what people actually want and choose in their public services."

He said the website would strike a blow for "people power" by "shining a bright light of transparency on everything government does".

Announcing the plans in the Commons, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin was mocked by Labour MPs amused at concept of a "horizon shift"- something Tory MP Edward Leigh also described as "Yes Minister" language - and the concept of the "milestones" as opposed to Labour's targets.

Seeking to explain the difference, Mr Letwin said: "A target is an effort by a government, of which there were many in the previous government, to determine what the whole of the public service, through micro-management, would achieve - they were often not met. What we are talking about is actions which lie under the direct control of government and it is absolutely right that we should manage ourselves."

But Labour's Liam Byrne, who broadly welcomed the plans to publish more details, called him the "minister for milestones".

He added: "There will be no power shift if he is going to destroy the power of NHS patients to be treated within 18 weeks, the power of parents to get one-to-one tuition for their children if they are falling behind at school, the power of citizens to summon police officers to talk about issues of local concern."

He asked Mr Letwin to "review the ending of basic rights to high quality public services" adding: "Because when it comes to public services, the public wants guarantees and all he has offered them this afternoon is an online gamble."

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