Government 'lacks firm grasp' over transparency18 April 2012
Ministers need to get a better grip on the outcomes of their transparency drive in order to see if the accountability of government really has improved and other aims achieved, the National Audit Office has said.
Since coming to power the coalition has significantly increased the amount and type data being released by public bodies, the NAO acknowledged in its report on government transparency.
But it also said government needed a better understanding of costs, benefits and use of this data in order to assess if transparency had actually increased accountability, helped to improve public services and stimulated economic growth – potential outcomes ministers have shouted about for some time.
"Opening up access to public information has the potential to improve accountability and support public service improvement and economic growth," said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.
"What the government is lacking at the moment is a firm grasp of whether that potential is being realised.
"If transparency initiatives are to be more than aspirations, then government needs to measure and monitor both their costs and benefits. This is vital for tracking success and learning what works."
The government spending watchdog also said some sectors had so far failed to make data available to inform accountability and choice.
This included social care, where neither the Department of Health nor any of its public funded bodies had collected required information on comparative costs and performance of providers of home care for adults.
Concerns over real outcomes from the transparency drive have been expressed before. In July 2011, Commons select committee chair Bernard Jenkin warned placing information online would not by itself lead to genuinely transparent and accountable government.