The government has published the biggest and most comprehensive spending data in British history, as details of all Whitehall spending over £25,000 become available to all.
In an attempt to make government more transparent, £80 billion of expenditure -195,000 lines of data – has been published.
From today, anyone and everyone will be able to see each transaction by any of the 24 core departments, detailing every item of spending over £25,000. Some departments, including Communities and Local Government, have decided to release data on payments over £500.
A total of 157 spreadsheets, this is the latest in a series of data publishing by the government. Cameron hopes unveiling this data will help make Britain the most “open, accountable and transparent governments there is.”
Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, said: “When you open up the books, let people start to do some auditing of their own, I think there will be a great deal of pressure on government to use money, other people’s money, much more carefully and be prepared to answer questions more.”
In a video on the Number 10 website, David Cameron talks about a “landmark” in the current and future governments.
“It is our ambition to become one of the most transparent governments in the world,” he said. “Open about what we do, and crucially, what we spend. And today you’re going to see just how transformative our plans really are.
“Starting from now, and updated each month, each department will publish every item of spending over £25,000 online.
“Just think about what this could mean – people will be able to look at millions of items on public spending, flagging up waste when they see it, and that scrutiny is going to act as a powerful straightjacket on spending, saving us a lot of money.”
From January the government will also publish all government contracts over £25,000, which Cameron argues will help to “get real value for money for the taxpayer”.
Cameron urged people to “use [the data], exploit it, hold us to account. Together we can set a great example of what a modern democracy ought to look like.”
He also promised a new “Right to Data”, which will allow people to request streams of government data, and use it for social or commercial purposes.
So how useful is this data?
The data itself covers over 194,000 individual transactions, payments to suppliers and bills covered by government departments in the first five months of the Coalition.
The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, praised the move. “Today’s publication of the details of government spending over £25,000 marks the start of a new and exciting chapter for freedom of information – or what FOI version 2.0,” he said.
However, a lot is excluded: the NHS, benefit payments, spending by quangos, information removed for “national security” and personally confidential reports. The Guardian claims it amounts to about £80bn of an annual spend of £670bn.
Critics have also warned the data is almost meaningless without context. Furthermore, will people actually be able to understand it? 195,000 lines of data is a daunting prospect for even the most savvy reader.
There has been criticism of the way some data has been released. Some civil servants are said to be privately critical of the way personnel numbers were released early on in the coalition. Furthermore, the publication of Coins data was so confusing the Treasury had to run seminars on how to use it.
What is your verdict? The Guardian has put together an excellent app to help decipher the data.
The data is also available at data.gov.uk