The death of the data-hugging state?

How Tim Berners-Lee freed government data

In the week that it was reported the government has wasted £26bn on botched IT projects, it's reassuring at least to see one website that looks like money well spent.

Officially launched today, data.gov.uk is Gordon Brown's answer to Barack Obama's Data.gov, and was created with the help of the web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. The site provides web users with access to public-sector data ranging from statistics on abandoned vehicles to the months of life lost due to alcohol use.

It's a far more radical project than it first appears. As Prospect's James Crabtree argues, the site marks a clear break with the closed, data-hugging state of the past. With the Tories promising to publish online every item of government spending over £25,000, it was essential for ministers to make data more accessible to the public.

In the most exciting development, the data has also been made available to commercial users, meaning we can expect thousands of new apps to be created. You can see a list of the 19 created so far here. There's also an ideas section listing proposals for future data research. Suggestions so far include "i-Need a Pee" -- a GPRS public toilet finder -- and "job discrimination in private and public sector" -- a league table of organisations that have faced employment tribunals for discrimination.

Sites like Data.gov have the potential to transform the relationship between citizen and state. We can expect the electorate, newly armed with data, to subject state spending to unprecedented scrutiny. In the digital age, there is nowhere for failing ministers to hide.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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