Head of Civil service makes call for Whitehall 'transparency revolution'

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The Independent Online

Britain's most senior civil servant today calls for a transparency revolution in Whitehall to make the UK Government the "most open" in the world.

In an article for i's sister paper The Independent Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, openly admits that in the past civil servants have been far better at collecting information on schools, hospitals and crime than they have been at releasing it to the public.

"From the first censuses in 1801 to the creation of the Central Statistical Office by Winston Churchill, the amount of information gathered and held by Government has exponentially increased as our society has become more complex," he writes.

He adds: "Today, we hold raw information on everything from pupil performance by class, crime levels on every street in the country and the success rate for every single operation in your local hospital.

"We can even tell at the touch of a button how late your train into work is likely to be."

But he promises that in future total transparency across Whitehall will become the norm "giving people the information they need to make choices about their lives" and highlighting "areas where the public sector is underperforming".

His commitment is likely to mean that within a few years the public will be able to assess pupil performance by class, crime levels on every street and the success rate for every operation in local hospitals from one single source.

The information will also be available in "raw" format so businesses will be able to make use of it to make smart phone applications while academics be able to analyse it for trends.

Sir Jeremy admits that such data "won't always be comfortable for the civil service or Government" but argues that it is the best way to drive up standards in the public service and, handled correctly, will become a "tremendous force for good".

"While we've been steadily improving the way we collect data, if we're honest, historically the civil service has been less good at releasing it to the people who most need it and can make most use of it: the public," he writes.

"It is essential we take the opportunity to deliver a more open and transparent civil service, whether sharing information or developing policy. Within the service, we have some of Britain's foremost experts on the biggest issues the country faces, however we don't have all the experts.

"(But) transparency makes for better Government. The data we are releasing will provide a powerful incentive for improvement."