Government mulls data sharing proposals

Local government could be given discretionary powers to share personal data with other public services under proposals being considered by central government.

A policy discussion paper from the Cabinet Office data sharing policy team in April says that the move could transform public service provision.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the proposals will be converted into a white paper later this year.

The discussion document says: “New ways of providing services are essential to improving quality and addressing cross cutting social challenges.

“More effective use of data is a tool with significant (and proven) potential to benefit individuals and society and is key to supporting the transformation of public service provision.”

According to the document, sharing could take place between councils, government departments, emergency services and schools.

These bodies could be given powers to disclose personal and other data to an accredited external data processor which would index the data.

According to the data sharing team, data sharing could have benefits in the following areas:

  • Research and statistics – making it easier for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to access data would help more accurate estimates of GDP to aid policy formulation;
  • Service provision – making it easier for the from public authorities, to enable it to better carry out its functions;
  • Reducing fraud error and debt – helping public bodies keep up with fraudsters which the government estimates cause government £37bn a year.

The paper admits that the plans could cause public concern and need to be designed in a way to safeguard privacy.

It said that it wanted to subject the proposals to wider scrutiny, including public consultation before introducing legislation, although none has been forthcoming so far.

The document said: “Our ambition with this work is to listen to and understand the arguments advanced to help us develop proposals that will help deliver necessary changes and resultant improvements to public service delivery and the lives of citizens.”

Colin Marrs

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