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Government to modernise data infrastructure, says Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock

Updating infrastructure, providing lunchtime coding clubs for civil servants and improving use of data are among the key government priorities

The government plans to upgrade its data infrastructure as part of its “data revolution” for the public sector, according to Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock.

Speaking at the ODI summit in early November, Hancock said the government is on the “foothills of a data revolution” and needs to update its infrastructure to ensure it can take advantage of the data.

“We need to get better at standardising and maintaining our data. We need to move away from government’s reliance on bulk data sharing and create an economy of APIs,” he said

“And as with every other aspect of government, we need data services built around the needs of users, not the internal logic of Whitehall.”

Hancock added that the government as a platform (GaaP) programme led by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and plans to move from a focus on transactions to platforms that can be used across government departments instead of duplicating work “will depend on strong data foundations”.

A new GDS strategy is due to be published before Christmas.

Lunchtime coding

Hancock also said the government is setting up a series of “lunchtime code clubs” to develop opportunities for “civil servants to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into data”.

“This isn’t about turning everyone into a data scientist, it’s about making sure that departments are intelligent consumers of their own data,” he said.

Hancock recently promised to tackle barriers to linking and sharing data, and highlighted the need to use technology to tackle bureaucracy across government and use transparency to gain the trust of the public.

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In his speech at the ODI summit, Hancock said opening up data isn’t enough, but simply a way of improving decision making in government.

“Our core datasets must talk to each other, built on high-quality registers instead of lists of data replicated in each government department,” he said.

Hancock also highlighted the need for trust and keeping data safe and secure, and promised to treat personal and sensitive data with “the utmost care”.

“But securing our data assets doesn’t just mean making them harder to steal – it also means safeguarding their integrity,” he said. “Inaccurate or corrupted data means citizens being lost between the cracks, so it’s vital that we ensure our data is well-managed and of high quality.”

The government will strengthen its approach to data policy and government and is putting data “at the heart” of its Open Government Partnership Action Plan.

It’s also supporting a new data leaders network in Whitehall, which will review legislation on data sharing, and setting up a steering group of “digital and data visionaries driving this agenda forward”.

Members of the steering group include Fiona Caldicott, the national data guardian for health and care; Mustafa Suleyman from Google DeepMind; and Nigel Shadbolt from the Open Data Institute.

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