Security fears hamper civil service’s drive to share data with other public bodies, survey finds

New research shows Whitehall departments are good at sharing data with each other, but openness with the wider public sector is more of a challenge


By Jim Dunton

29 Jan 2016

A poll of more than 4,400 civil servants has found that fear of security breaches is a major brake on efforts to boost data sharing between central government departments and other parts of the public sector.

Collaboration and digital service transformation are key government priorities, underscored by chancellor George Osborne in November's Spending Review. But the survey found that while 71% of respondents said their department shared data with other Whitehall organisations, just 31% said they shared data with local government, and 29% shared data with the third sector.

Only 8% of respondents to the study, conducted by global IT firm CGI in partnership with Civil Service World’s sister company Dods Research, said their department currently made information available via open-data platforms.

Civil servants’ most cited barrier to further data sharing by government was the potential for a data breach, which 49% said was a concern. Other reasons included the “lack of interoperable systems” (38%) and challenges posed by poor quality data from other organisations (33%). 


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Steve Thorn, CGI’s senior vice president responsible for the public sector, said the research showed that more work was needed to deliver the efficiency opportunities presented by the Spending Review – which hiked the budget for the Government Digital Service to an average of £125m a year for the current parliament.

“Sharing data within Whitehall is to be encouraged but it’s only half the battle, local government organisations need to be a key part of the action too,” he said.

“The support outlined in the Spending Review offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine and reshape the underlying processes of government and our public services.”

The month before the Spending Review, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood told CSW he believed tech innovation had the potential to deliver “the big savings that are needed without damaging public services”. He predicted part of that transformation would be delivered by “a lot more digital platforms that are common across departments”.

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