Science and Technology Committee warns of data silos in Whitehall

Public services could be prevented from being improved unless steps are taken to prevent data silos, the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee has warned.

Its report The Big Data Dilemma said that while government had made progress in opening up data, more had to be done to “break down departmental data silos, to bring data together in order to further improve public services, as well as to improve data quality”.

The committee recommended that a “right of access to data should be introduced for the Office for National Statistics. It added that the Government Digital Service, the Office for National Statistics or another expert body should audit the quality of data within Government departments amenable for big data applications. It added that there should be scope for identifying data sharing opportunities to break departmental data silos.

The government should “set out how it can build capacity to deliver more datasets, increasingly in real time, both to decision-makers in government and to external users”.

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It stressed that there were risks, as well as opportunities from big data.

“Personal data is only a small proportion of big data, with huge potential from non-personal datasets for transport and weather forecasting, for example,” the report said.

But given the scale and pace of data gathering and sharing, however, “distrust and concerns about privacy and security [are] often well founded and must be resolved by industry and Government if the full value of big data is to be realised”.

Nicola Blackwood MP, the committee’s chair, said: “The use of ‘big data’ is already bringing big benefits.

“Exploited further, big data will be transformative, unlocking new life-saving research and creating unimagined opportunities for innovation. The Government has a role in this, in sharing and opening up its own data.”

Colin Marrs

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