Charities fear unfair competition after open data consultation

Voluntary sector bodies are warning that Cabinet Office plans to dramatically broaden access to public data may end up putting charities and social enterprises at a disadvantage in the competition for service delivery contracts, as private companies plead commercial confidentiality to evade new transparency rules.

By Civil Service World

08 Feb 2012

“Open data only really works if everyone is doing it,” David Kane, research officer at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, told CSW last week. “A charity might publish data showing that they tried something out but it didn’t work, while a commercial company might be able to cite commercial confidentiality. A private company could look at our data to see how we did something, and then put resources into doing it better.”

Voluntary sector bodies warn that the Cabinet Office consultation on open data, Making Open Data Real, raised the prospect of subjecting contractors to government to the same transparency rules as public sector bodies, but also sought to reassure private businesses that their commercial confidentiality will be respected. The consultation responses were published last week, revealing the concerns of charities and social enterprises.

Housing associations have similar fears where they compete directly with for-profit bodies – for example, in providing housing for older people. The National Housing Federation argues that exemptions for commercial confidentiality must apply to everyone – but whatever safeguards might be put in place, NHF policy lead John Bryant fears the additional administrative burdens that the open data agenda may place on the not-for-profit sector.

“Exclusions around commercial confidentiality will require a lot of work,” he told CSW. “Deciding what would be exempt takes time. There would be a mechanism for challenging such decisions. If we employ more people, we’d like them to get tenants into houses rather than pore through vast reams of data. Which of those is of greater public benefit?”

See our feature on open data.


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