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General election: ODI hopes to see data, skills and innovation pledges in party manifestos

The Open Data Institute wants the UK’s political parties to make room for data policy in their manifestos ahead of the general election

The Open Data Institute (ODI) has called on the political parties to include commitments on data infrastructure, trust and open innovation in their manifestos.

In a blogpost, the ODI’s head of policy Peter Wells said that while people are “unlikely to vote for a candidate solely based on what they think about data”, the manifestos can give people who have an interest in data some steering towards what the next five years will look like under a particular party.

“They also help us all understand whether the candidates understand the changes to our society that are being brought about by the internet and world wide web, and how data and new technologies have created new ways to deliver policies,” he said.

In his blogpost, Wells set out a series of sentences the ODI would like to see as part of the manifestos, from low-key commitments around data infrastructure such as simply recognising data is “vital to a 21st century society and economy” to a commitment to legislate to recognise and maintain core data assets.

When it comes to skills, the ODI want manifestos to include sentences promising the recognition that everyone need digital skills and promising investment in data literacy, as well as highlighting the need for open data and open innovation.

The ODI also want commitment around ethics and public trust in how the government use data, from a basic recognition that public trust is needed, to setting up a data ethics board and increasing funding for the Information Commissioner’s Office.

In February 2017, civil service chief John Manzoni said public trust was key to a data-driven government. Manzoni said the Digital Economy Bill, which passed through parliament earlier this year, aims to “give confidence that the government is doing the right thing”.

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However, the bill has come under fire, both by a group of experts, and by the House of Lords Delegated Powers Committee for its data sharing agreements weakening the protection of sensitive information, rather than strengthening it.

The House of Lords committee said it was “inappropriate”, as one of the bill’s clauses on data-sharing gave ministers “almost untrammeled powers” allowing them to “prescribe extensive lists of public authorities as ‘specified persons’, either by name or description”.

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