Official data must be easier to understand, say MPs

Computer Most visitors to the government's information portal leave without accessing data

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The government must do more to ensure data released under its "transparency agenda" is accessible, MPs have said.

The Public Accounts Committee said better information on subjects such as school performance and social services was essential to improving the quality and value of public services.

Public bodies are being told to publish accounts online, but the committee said they must be "easy to understand".

The government said it was the "most transparent in British history".

The coalition's transparency agenda, set out by Prime Minister David Cameron, set objectives to strengthen public accountability, to support public service improvement by generating more comparative data and increasing user choice.

'Further work'

The government also promised to stimulate economic growth by helping third parties develop products and services based on public information.

In its report, called Implementing the Transparency Agenda, the committee found the progress made so far had been "inherently strong", adding "further work" was needed.

Offerings such as crime maps and the schools-performance website had had success, but the quality of information was not widespread enough, the committee said.

The government estimates four out of five people who visit its data.gov.uk website do so without accessing any links to data.

The committee said: "It does not help government to meet the objectives of the transparency agenda when large quantities of raw data are released without ensuring that the data are fit for purpose."

There were "important gaps in information, such as incomplete price and performance information on adult social care", it added.

Mrs Hodge, a Labour MP, said: "At the moment too much data is poorly presented and difficult to interpret."

She added: "It must be accessible, relevant and easy for us all to understand."

The report said the government did "not understand" the costs and benefits of its transparency agenda and had "not got a clear evidence-based policy" on whether or not to charge for data.

The committee also warned there was a risk people without internet access would not gain the full benefits of more open public data, adding these were often the most frequent users of services.

But Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: "This is the most transparent government in British history and we are leading the world on this agenda. We thank the committee for their support and will carefully review their report before responding.

"We agree that open data allows citizens to hold governments to account, drives improvements in public services by informing choice, and provides a feedstock for innovation and growth.

"We also agree that everyone should have access to open data - that's exactly why we set out last month how the government will ensure open data is more accessible and more usable, including overhauling the data.gov.uk site."

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