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Francis Maude urges government to ‘stop hiding’ behind DPA at ICO annual conference

Transparency in Government means officials must stop hiding behind the Data Protection Act and publish and share more information, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told hundreds of public sector staff today.

Maude was speaking on “the transparency agenda” at the Information Commissioner’s Office Data Protection Officer Conference in Manchester attended by hundreds of staff from councils, central government, the NHS and private companies from Apple to Zurich Financial Services.

Maude told the audience that the failure to share data was costing the UK more than £38billion in fraud, uncollected debt and error every year and that that the public sector must rid itself of the “ultra-cautious and conservative – with a small ‘c’ – culture.”

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General argued that data sharing would lead to considerable advances in medical knowledge, and drastically improve public services while reducing costs.

He said that sharing data could seem “risky, difficult and uncomfortable” but that data was “the new feedstuff” for innovative companies and that public services must support the “proper, beneficial exploitation of data”.

He added: “Opposition parties are always very keen on transparency. Governments for the first 12 months are also keen as they are exposing the mistakes of the previous administration. However, after the first year this dwindles.

“I hope no-one can accuse this government of losing its enthusiasm for transparency. Transparency is an irresistible, unstoppable force. Open government is not always comfortable but we like it.”

Later in the 30 minute speech, he said: “We must not be immobilized by the fear of taking steps forward but we must be very careful with people’s data. There is no room for complacency about our current legal structures. The Data Protection Act was introduced in a different era when the Internet was just a twinkle in people’s eyes.

“There are amazing opportunities in an open world to do great things like improving our medical knowledge and innovation which will make our public services run much better for much less taxpayers’ money.”

Tim Kelsey, executive director of transparency and open data at the Cabinet Office, spoke after Maude and called for the introduction of a “culture of a presumption of publication in public services” and for a “Trip Advisor” for public services.

The government would be making new announcements in May and June this year relating to transparency and data sharing among departments. The European Commission is negotiating new data protection regulation, which is expected to be enforced from 2016.

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