A government-commissioned panel has called for a debate on the introduction of a general presumption that information on individuals will be shared across public services if it improves outcomes.
The Independent Service Transformation Challenge Panel was established by ministers to recommend changes to help public services deal with demographic changes, increasing expectations and the need to reduce the cost of public services.
One of three fundamental changes advocated by the panel’s report, released yesterday, is that radical improvements are needed in how data and technology are used to provide smarter services.
It said that although most public services understand the need to better share information and use data to integrate services, many express uncertainty about how to achieve that in line with their perceived statutory obligations. And it said that local public services use of digital lags behind the private sector, particularly in relation to customer data.
A number of submissions to the panel also said that a plethora of guidance about information sharing across the public sector is confusing and created a lack of clarity about what could and could not be shared.
The report said: “Though we found several examples of information being shared effectively to improve local outcomes, we saw that the combination of these factors outlined above has contributed to a generalised attitude across the public sector that sharing information is difficult, risky and time consuming.”
It said that some agencies it visited during its investigations are “very risk adverse” and “guard their autonomy to the point that they will not share information even when there is a clear rationale and statutory basis”.
More needs to be done to shift attitudes so that “sharing becomes the default position”, according to the panel.
However, it said that barriers to this include a lack of public awareness about the benefits, incompatible information management systems, and uncertain interpretation of the Data Protection Act.
“To transform services and outcomes, particularly for those people who present the greatest risks and create the biggest demands, there needs to be changes in the statutory basis for sharing information as part of a national debate about the benefits of sharing,” the panel said.
“That debate should not shy away from advocating the introduction of a general presumption that service user information will be shared across public services where this improves outcomes.”
It pointed to recent polling it said suggested that the the majority of the public would support greater information sharing across public services if the benefits were more clearly explained and where appropriate data is anonymised and an opt-out available.
The government should seek cross party support to introduce a draft bill in the first session of the next parliament to enable better sharing across public services, the panel recommended.
Government should also consult on creating basic local digital standards to enable better use of data, compatibility of digital platforms and to drive ‘open source’ digital innovation, according to the report.
It said: “That consultation should also consider whether or not to establish a joint national-local capability to promote those standards and help build the necessary technical capacity in places to take advantage of them.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “Breaking down barriers between public services at a local level enables people to get a better, more coordinated service at less cost.
“ This level of collaborative reform will be crucial to meeting the fiscal challenges of the next parliament in a fair way, that maintains high quality services.
“The panel’s report makes the case brilliantly and I look forward to leading this agenda in the coming months.”