MPs have urged the government to take a “concrete step” to greater transparency by creating a searchable database of meetings with businesses that extends to include senior civil servants.
In its report on the government’s Industrial Strategy, the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s makes a series of recommendations that would increase transparency around the strategy.
The Industrial Strategy green paper – which is open for consultation until 17 April – sets out 10 pillars that aim to improve the UK’s economy, with an emphasis on the need for Whitehall to work with industry to identify strengths and boost productivity.
However, the MPs’ report said that the government’s proposal to focus on “sector deals” risked a return of the “discredited credo of picking winners”.
Instead, the government should take a “mission-based” approach that looks to tackle global, UK-wide and local public policy challenges, such as decarbonisation or electrifying transport infrastructure.
The MPs add that there is a risk that focusing on sectors could mean smaller businesses, or those sectors with a less established lobbying base or groups miss out – and call for greater transparency on external meetings with business, to offer more information on lobbying activities.
This database should include publishing details of meetings with people from outside Whitehall in a single, searchable database, which extends to cover those that take place at senior civil service level.
“The publication of ministers’ and permanent secretaries’ meetings goes some way to providing transparency about lobbying access,” the report said.
“However, many decisions and recommendations around policy design and implementation are developed by staff at more junior levels. Furthermore, the lack of a single unified register of meetings makes it hard for members of the public to navigate the data that is published.”
The report said that the Government Transformation Strategy, published last month, makes it clear that there is a need to increase transparency and trust between the public and the government.
“A concrete step that could be taken to deliver this would be to transform access to transparency data to make registers of meetings more accessible and to develop a non-bureaucratic way to publish details of meetings with external stakeholders at all levels of the senior civil service,” the report said.
There should also be a single annual report on statistics related to industrial strategy that parliament can then debate as part of a “regular and established part of the parliamentary calendar”.
Such metrics could relate to success in improving real-terms earnings per household, improving spending on R&D compared to other OECD countries and on improving international rankings in basic skills and on infrastructure.
Meanwhile, interim updates on these statistics should be published in one place on GOV.UK that would provide “a clear dashboard of measures through which parliament and the wider public could hold the government to account for delivery”.
The MPs also called for the government to publish details on progress towards the commitments set out in the strategy, as well as clearly defining any new interventions.
“We recommend that the government publishes annual updates to its action plan outlining progress in delivering policies and setting out any new policies and how they align with the overall strategy,” the report said.
“The government should also create a single dashboard of metrics relating to industrial strategy on GOV.UK which should be updated as new statistics are published.”
The MPs’ call for greater transparency and more open data follows calls from John Manzoni, the chief executive of the civil service, for government to change the way it works to make the most of the data it holds.
This includes an emphasis on building and retaining public trust, which he has described as being “absolutely critical to achieving our ambition of a data-driven government”.