After being elected Prime Minister in 2010 David Cameron committed the UK to having “the most open and transparent government in the world.” Alongside this, the Government’s civil service reform plan published last year promised to “make open policymaking the default”, recognising that Whitehall itself does not have a monopoly on expertise. Here’s a brief - inevitably partial and contestable - ‘scorecard’ on the Government’s progress on open government and open policy.
A couple of weeks ago we discussed some of the main initiatives under open policy. This week, we put forward a simple scorecard to measure the Government’s progress. Points have been awarded for each move towards open policy and open government - and points deducted for each step in the other direction.
The Government’s engagement in the Open Government Partnership, including the drafting of the National Action Plan with the extensive involvement of civil society organisations. +1
The Contestable Policy Fund to source policy development from outside Whitehall. +1
The Red Tape Challenge. +1
The ongoing development of the ‘Matrix‘ by the Government Digital Service, a repository of tools, techniques and case studies that will help policymakers to do open policy making. +1
Greater encouragement for civil servants using social media. +1
The Major Projects Authority’s ‘traffic light’ performance report on major projects. +1
The Payment by Results agenda - that public services are commissioned and funded according to what they achieve against clear outcome measures, at least in theory. +1
The localism agenda - from reducing the ringfencing of budgets to neighbourhood planning. +1
The redesign of government websites in a clearer common format and the work of the Government Digital Service generally. +1
Digital by Default. +1
The Contestable Policy Fund - only one project has been commissioned through so far, from a ‘usual suspect’ organisation. -1
Refusing to publish the NHS risk register, among others. -1
Inhibiting Freedom of Information - via new more restrictive guidance, slow responses to requests, resisting specific requests for example over businesses and charities involved in workfare placements and Prince Charles’ lobbying of ministers, and the continued exemption of outsourced providers of public services. -1.
The reality of senior civil servants’ use of social media. -1
The Government’s recurring mis-representation of official statistics. -1
Denigrating and refusing to meet grassroots campaign groups such as Spartacus. -1
Some ministers’ determinedly closed approach to policymaking - most notably Michael Gove. -1
The Payment by Results agenda - in practice. -1
The localism agenda - undermined by government centralism. -1
Lack of (promised) lobbying reform - principally a lobbying register, despite lobbying being the “next big scandal waiting to happen” according to David Cameron.
Lack of transparency on taxation arrangements between HMRC and large firms. -1
Lack of up-to-date information on government websites, for example on special advisers. -1
Digital by Default - given that may people still don’t have (reliable) internet access and that technology doesn’t always work. -1
Total score: -1
Clearly, the scoring is somewhat arbitrary - there are no doubt measures I’ve missed (on both sides), and it’s entirely arguable that different initiatives should be weighted more heavily than others. Further, open government and open policy are ambitious agendas, and the Government is to be praised for making these markers against which it can be evaluated. But judging the Government on what it is actually doing - not just what it says - suggests that while significant progress has been made in some areas, the Government is undermining its own efforts by resisting greater openness, particularly when this would be uncomfortable for ministers. In short, there’s still some way to go until we have the ‘most open and transparent government in the world’.