Public Services > Central Government

Cautious welcome for Budget data and devolution pledges

Neil Merrett Published 17 March 2016

The ODI and LGA have given mixed responses to the chancellor's latest commitments to open data and support local authorities


Key local government and data organisations have welcomed commitments in the 2016 Budget to open up address information, further devolve powers and reform business rates, despite expressing concern over the possible loss of key datasets and limited funding for integrated care.

The publication of chancellor George Osborne's 2016 Budget on Wednesday included commitments for all English schools to at least be in the process of becoming academies by 2022, as well as modernising tax systems and business rates, while allowing local authorities to retain these funds.

Alongside commitments to improve digital tax systems and "modernise" business rates, the government also pledged £10m to a new hub for data science and a centre for excellence in economic measurement in order to develop analytical and digital capabilities in economic measurement.

The Open Data Institute (ODI) said that for a budget that had "surprisingly little to say about data and the digital economy," it welcomed the chancellor's pledge to provide £5m for exploring the publication of an open address register.

"There is also positive news that that there is £10m funding for a hub of data science and a centre for excellence in economic measurement to support the Office for National Statistics (ONS)," said the organisation in a statement. "Both addresses and statistics are vital parts of our data infrastructure."

However, citing the privatisation of Royal Mail during the Coalition government, the ODI said that control had been lost of address data, with the UK now having to spend time and money rebuilding the information.

"But we are concerned by the plan to move the Land Registry into the private sector. The government will need to be careful not to repeat the costly mistakes that it has made with address data in the past," the institute argued.

"Aside from these we note the lack of focus on the digital economy and entrepreneurship with little reference to data infrastructure, open data, open banking or digital innovation."

Ultimately, the ODI argued that the government had missed an opportunity to meet its stated aims of strengthening the UK economy, supporting 'working people' and backing enterprises, by not doing more to commit to open data infrastructure.

Speaking the day after the budget was unveiled, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock played up government commitments to the need for the very best policies and services based on relevant and accessible data,.

"Official statistics shine a light on how our economy is performing, but by doing so inform policy decisions of government and businesses which affect the lives of millions of people across the UK," he said.

In line with the launch of an eight week public consultation over better use of data that expires next month, Osborne said in the Budget that he was also committed to implementing full recommendations of an independent review by Professor Sir Charles Bean into UK economic statistics.

Outside of data, the Local Government Association (LGA) said it welcomed that no further cuts were announced to council budgets as recognition of the pressures facing authorities and public service delivery in the coming years.

LGA chair Lord Porter said it would be vital to ensure consistency and some period of financial stability by protecting authorities against further cuts during the course of the current parliament.

Porter there said he welcomed the announcement of further devolution deals in line with ongoing commitments by government to provide enhanced powers to specific regions and councils.

"To build desperately-needed homes, create jobs, provide the dignified care for our elderly and boost economic growth, all councils need greater freedom from central government to take decisions over vital services in their area," he said.

"A total of 34 devolution proposals - from cities, towns and counties - have been submitted across England. These new deals and extensions to existing deals must signal a return to the early momentum in which similar deals were announced last year. This will clearly require different approaches for different areas, including how they are governed."

While maintaining opposition to plans to make all secondary and primary schools in England academies, Porter also expressed disappointment that calls from councils, NHS originations and charities to bring forward £700m in finance from the Better Care Fund to support more integrated care and systems had been ignored.

"The failure to do so means vulnerable members of the community still face an uncertain future where the dignified care and support they deserve, such as help getting dressed, fed or getting out and about, remains at risk," he said. "Vital social care services will also increasingly be unable to help ease the growing pressure on the NHS and the threat of a care home crisis will creep closer to becoming a reality."

Related articles:

Government launches data sharing consultation

Osborne outlines new era for education with 2016 Budget

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