Mark Ballard of Computer Weekly is trying to get the details of government meetings with the IT industry, and struggling. Among other things, this seems to be yet another use case for an enduring Freedom of Information Act request. It’s also one of the reasons why I like the idea of a central contacts register. Back at OpenTech 2009 I said to Tom Watson MP, just after he resigned as a minister, that it wasn’t just useful for citizens to be able to find out who officials were contacting – the government itself might benefit from keeping track of who was lobbying it, maintaining a common line-to-take across different departments, and the like. Hey, even the lobbyists might benefit from knowing who else was lobbying.

Of course, there’s an argument that the government quite likes having pathological relationships with its suppliers. But that’s one of the points where as soon as you get radical enough to understand the situation, you’re also too cynical to do anything about it. Watson’s been campaigning about this, and the Cabinet Office recently released some data. With the embarrassing bits taken out.

The bulk of it is here, it looks like they’re planning to split the disclosure between departments as this only covers ministers in the Cabinet Office (i.e. the PM, DPM, Secretary for the Cabinet Office, Leader of the Commons and the whips). It’s also on but it’s going to need reparsing. At least it’s not a PDF. It’s a bit thin, presumably because the bulk of meetings with external organisations go via officials or bag carrier MPs – DEFRA’s is rather chewier.

  1. So what do you think of the whole “open government” thing? Does it play a useful role in making government transparent to citizens or is it just another (a) way for governments to look like they are being open while cutting costs, and (b) way for companies to make a bunch of money while claiming to promote civic engagement? I lean towards the cynical view myself, but I’m trying hard not to become a grumpy old git about it.

  2. I think it’s good – we’ve done a lot with TWFY, WDTK, WriteToThem, FixMyStreet. I mean, I can’t see any good reason to withhold the public’s data. But I do think the balance has tipped a bit too far in the direction of ever better ways to release the locations of bus stops in Wrexham.

    However, that’s in part a function of being such a big project.

  3. Glad to hear it. There seems a lot out there that is basically seeing Open Government as a privatization exercise. eg

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