Author Archives: Tim Hughes

Tim Hughes

About Tim Hughes

Tim is Involve's incoming director, taking over from 21st January 2017. Tim has led campaigns and advocacy on open government; advised national, devolved and local governments, civil society organisations and multilateral institutions; and researched and written on topics including public participation, open government, democratic reform, civil society advocacy and public administration.

Data sharing workshop II | 19 January 2016 | Meeting note

A version of this note for comments is available here:


Tim Hughes welcomed attendees and explained Involve’s role as facilitator of the discussions for the Data Sharing proposals.

Sue Bateman explained that the aim of the session was to work through the proposals and to understand support and on-going questions or concerns. The views of the Open Policy Making (OPM) group would be reflected back to the Minister for the Cabinet Office as part of further advice on the consultation package and process. The session allowed for participants to voice their views on the proposals that most interested them.


It was agreed that the group continue to abide by principles, but remain open to changing the day’s schedule to run better at a majority of attendees’ behest.

  • Transparency– non-attributed comments but everything will be written up and made available.
  • Accessibility – everyone is open to engage if they have interest.
  • Collaboration- all participants are constructively participating in the process to improve the proposals.
  • Independence – there is no expectation of reaching consensus as an outcome but to know where the areas of broad agreement lie is the aim.

The first half of the workshop focused on the core package of proposals to closely understand the positive points for each, and where the OPM group felt that more work is required.

During the second half of the session, the group considered the new proposals along with the consultation process and next steps.


Each of the leads gave a short presentation to recap the main points and safeguards for their respective proposals. The full proposals paper is available here.

Identified Data

Key proposals:

  • To give the National Statistician the right to securely access identified data for the purpose of producing aggregate national statistics – from public sector bodies, charities and businesses.
  • To securely share data with Devolved Administrations to meet their statistical needs arising out of further devolution.
  • Reaffirm strict penalties for misuse of data
  • Create an obligation for data suppliers to inform/consult with the National Statistician before changing underlying stats collection and transmission systems so as to protect the integrity of official statistics outputs based on these data


  • UKSA’s independence from ministers, and direct reporting lines and accountability to parliament.
  • Standards, a code of practice and ethical principles will be consulted upon publicly.
  • Statistical disclosure controls exist and will apply to these proposals.
  • The National Statistician’s ethics committee will have an important role in evaluating relevant ethical questions.

De-identified Data

Permissive power proposed to:

  • Apply ​to all public authorities, with the exclusion of health and social care providers, to link de-identified data for the purpose of research in the public interest​.
  • In order to use this power, a process for ​the de-identification of data must be followed (removing ​of ​personal identifiers).
  • The legislation itself ​has been drafted with a certain level of detail and ​seeks to strike a balance between transparency of process and robust legal definitions on the one hand and flexibility (using measures such a delegated Ministerial power to amend through secondary legislation) on the other​.

Safeguards include:

  • Use of accredited access facilities for data use.
  • UKSA to govern the accreditation process
  • A code of conduct or similar​ will be published,
  • ​with sanctions for non-compliance by participants including withdrawal of accreditation​
  • Criminal sanctions will apply to individuals and organisations for unlawful disclosure  of data, with a maximum penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment, a heavy fine, or both.


Permissive power proposed to:

  • Act across devolved administrations.
  • The piloting of the power will be detailed in legislation and be subject to ministerial oversight and review.


  • A review will take place after three years to determine how well it is working, at which point it could be sunsetted.
  • Public bodies will have  conduct guidelines.
  • Unlawful disclosure rules will apply.
  • A clearly defined process for public accountability will be built into the power.

Tailored Public Services

Permissive power proposed to:

  • Ensure citizens receive the services they need, when they need it
  • The power will enable public authorities to share data to allow better delivery of public services.
  • Power is limited to a number of social policy outcomes, specific objectives will be listed on a schedule.
  • The power will only be used in specific circumstances.


  • There are definitions of when it could be used, ensuring that the objectives are intended only to benefit citizens.
  • Objectives could be amended in a schedule but this would go through an affirmative process, public bodies can be removed or added.
  • A code of practice will exist to detail how this power is intended to be used, including transparency measures about describe intent about how data is used.
  • Use of power must comply with Data Protection Act and Human Rights Act.

Discussion groups

The room split into four groups to discuss each of the proposals:

De-Identified Data discussion

Positive Points Raised in Table Discussion:

  • Proposal builds on existing good practice.
  • Standardises possibility of data sharing (eliminates the “if it’s external then probably not” argument).
  • The proposal specifies ‘public interest’ as a requirement.
  • There are criminal sanctions for misuse of data.
  • There is clear provision for accreditation.

Issues/Questions Raised in Table Discussion:

  • ​The need for clear and consistent messaging in consultation (language)
  • ​Do we need an appeals process, if not a ​mandatory gateway?
  • Does the current absence of ​health data cause a significant problem​?
  • ​How is ​”​unlawful disclosure” to be interpreted? Should there be a specific offence for “​re-identification​” of de-identified data​?
  • ​A definition of public interest, or public benefit, or how these will be defined, would be helpful.
  • A related point on defining the public interest is whether this would include benefits to private sector, i.e. research which led to increased profits, which could be a potential red line for some participants.

Identified Data discussion

Positive Points Raised in Table Discussion:

  • The proposals will lead to more robust data and National Statistics.
  • This will remove the need for ONS to make ad hoc data requests.
  • Proposals will aid research.

Issues/Questions Raised in Table Discussion:

  • Clarification is required about ‘obligation to consult National Statistician’, what does this mean?
  • How does this fit with EU data sharing regulation developments?
  • Clarity is required around terminology of data sharing/linking, where are the differences?
  • There needs to be read-across in policy documents between these proposals and the de-Identified strand.
  • How will the relationship with private companies work?


Positive Points Raised in Table Discussion:

  • This proposal will help to simplify a very complex legal landscape.
  • The proposal will Improve transparency.
  • Pilots and sunset clauses are sensible (but details need to be fleshed out further).

Issues/Questions Raised in Table Discussion:

  • How, when it comes to the evaluation of the gateway and the pilots, can we be sure this is being looked at objectively and counter the risk?
  • Is the three year window sensible? Is this long enough to make a sensible evaluation?
  • We need to be forward looking to new legislation like the GDPR on the horizon.
  • Lots of detail about which organisations, but there could be more information on what they could share, and where the boundaries lie.

Consultation Themes Raised in Table Discussion:

  • Detail required around code of practice
  • Evaluation criteria needs work
  • Exploring more about private company covered in the legislation – what are the safeguards around that?

Tailored Public Services

Positive Points Raised in Table Discussion:

  • Theme about transparency and streamlining the processes – increase the transparency for everyone.
  • Safeguards are well embedded.

Issues/Questions Raised in Table Discussion:

  • How to define benefits to citizen.
  • Cannot publish the code of practice but should explain what is going into it
  • Future-proofing and accidentally breaking future DPA?
  • Is there work around funding and training for new data skills?

Consultation Themes Raised in Table Discussion:

  • Define what ‘benefit’ means in this context.
  • Detail how best to engage with public both during and after consultation to ensure they are aware of the powers and their intent.

At the end of this first session, Tim asked the group whether they agreed that the identified strand should be brought back into the core set of proposals subject to addressing questions and points raised in discussion, this was agreed.

Subject to addressing issues of detail that had been raised, participants were in agreement with the approach of the respective core proposals.

New Proposal Presentations

After a short break, the room reconvened to discuss the new proposals being reviewed for inclusion in the package.

Debt Presentation

Proposed to:

  • Enable public sector bodies and private bodies who carry out a function on behalf of a public body, to share data for the purpose of better debt management across government,
  • Identify people with multiple debts to government, to enable better repayment structures, provide appropriate advice and support to vulnerable debtors who owe multiple debts, and to help create a more ‘single debtor view’.
  • These debts are legally collectable and enforceable, and all appeals processes and disputes have been concluded.
  • This does not introduce anything new. Public authorities already have the ability to share debt data. However, these gateways are restrictive, often misinterpreted, and are complex and time consuming to use.


  • A schedule will list bodies who can share with one another.
  • Pilots will enable minimal amount of data to be shared and will help to create a single debtor view, must be able to identify vulnerable debtors, and will follow best practice around reclaiming debts.
  • There is a review clause of three years, although concerns have been acknowledged around the process of this.

DECC Proposals

Proposed to:

  • Provide a public service to citizens living in fuel poverty by enabling a wider group of households to receive an automatic energy bill rebate, provided by their electricity supplier.
  • This policy is currently only available to those in receipt of pension credit and takes place every winter.
  • This power would allow an expansion of the policy, allowing energy companies to provide automatic rebates to more people who need it, notably low-income working age individuals and families.
  • It would also allow this assistance to be prioritised for those in greatest need – i.e. those who live in the coldest homes.
  • Recipients could be made automatically eligible for other forms fuel poverty support, such as energy efficiency.
  • The ability to data match would remove the need for the customer to provide evidence, including copies of sensitive documents such as benefit entitlement letters i.e. it would be safer, securer and less intrusive than current methods.


  • A minimum amount of data is involved – no data would be shared outside government except for an eligibility flag to inform energy companies which of their customers are eligible. Steps are also taken to minimise the overall number of customers involved in the data match.
  • Criminal sanctions would be brought against companies misusing data.
  • The scheme administrator, currently Ofgem, would set up strict data protection procedures.
  • The Data Protection Act applies.

GRO Proposals

Proposed to:

  • Introduce a discretionary power that would allow the sharing of records, such as a birth record, with public bodies to ensure they can fulfil their respective functions.
  • The overall proposal is discretionary, allowing for civil registration information to be shared on a case-by-case basis, or in some areas on a bulk basis.
  • This proposal would not change governance of civil registrations or override any restrictions on sharing data of this nature.


  • The introduction of a statutory code of reference developed with the ICO,
  • A Code of Practice to be laid before parliament.
  • MOUs and data sharing agreements would be required.
  • Ministerial notification of data sharing in relation to GRO data is required.

Group Discussion

Attendees were given 10 mins to note points against the various new proposals Tim then summarized for the room in plenary. The room then broke into three tables for further discussion of the proposals. Attendees could choose to discuss the two proposals they felt most strongly about.

Debt Discussion:

Positive Points Raised in Plenary:

  • The idea that a single communication from a person who understands the entire case to a debtor, in principle, is good debt management.

Issues/Questions Raised in Plenary:

  • Most of the proposals are about data in relation to a policy, the problem is that this is the data sharing aspects of a policy that is yet to be made. We do not have a final proposal or policy outline, just a gateway without the debt management proposals to go with it.
  • Criticism that this is not a data-sharing proposal, it is a debt management proposal.
  • Without a centralised debt management system, the data sharing aspects apply to an undefined outcome.

Responses to Issues Raised in Table Discussion:

  • The policy proposal is to enable better debt management across Government, that is fair to our debtors.
  • The power to allow departments to share data currently exist, this power would simply enable a quicker process, and a more joined up approach.
  • It is recognised there are significant problems with the single debtor view, without piloting in the first instance these cannot be worked through to begin delivering benefits to government.
  • Pilots will enable departments to explore different ways that the power could be used, in line with the constraints set out in the Code of Practice.
  • A centralised debt management system could form one of the pilots. This would help identify overlapping debtors and enable recovery in a unified way. This is an objective that the Government, and NAO and many departments have.
  • The macro view of debt and department interactions is required through piloting otherwise we can never get to the point where we have a single debtor view.

DECC Discussion:

Positive Points Raised in Plenary:

  • It will achieve maximum possible uptake of the benefit by those eligible.
  • Removes the burden on vulnerable groups to actively apply.
  • Better use of limited resources to support young people.
  • Improved access to data for specific purposes.
  • Without this measure, suppliers would still promote energy efficiency to their customers (and the customers of others), but the marketing would be untargeted. This would result in a great many households, including the vulnerable, getting information about offers for which they turn out not to be eligible.

Issues/Questions Raised in Plenary:

  • Needs to be more safeguards around onward data usage (to prevent marketing, at least for non-fuel poverty purposes etc.).
  • Need clarification on whether the proposers have considered how this data sharing will potentially interact with the Internet of Things in the future, for example, with the greater use of Smart Meters and what their conclusions were
  • Reasons required that set this apart from Tailored Public Services.
  • What is the role of OFGEM in these proposals?
  • Is there an opt-out mechanism for people who do not want to receive the benefit?

Response to Issues Raised in Table Discussion:

  • These proposals are separate to TPS because they extend to private companies (which is out of scope for the core TPS proposals).
  • It is out of scope for sensitive data to be shared with the private sector using this power.
  • Energy companies would only be permitted to use the eligibility information for the strict purposes for which it was shared – i.e. for alleviating fuel poverty.

GRO Civil Registrations Discussion:

Positive Points Raised in Plenary:

  • Proposals will offer better services for citizens, and streamlining for some services.
  • Proposal clearly states policy application and how it will benefit citizens.
  • Wider benefits outside of government if used by organisations such as banks.
  • Clear benefits for digitising government services.

Issues/Questions Raised in Plenary:

  • Digitization of data is patchy and there will be gaps which need resolving.
  • Will there be an opt-out for individuals?
  • Individual data sharing cases are one thing, but the details of bulk sharing need further detail.
  • There are broader implications of this work in creating a de-facto ID database which need to be mitigated against.
  • Will this work have an inherent increased workload for Local Authorities or will it be covered by central government?
  • Are there links to Verify with this work?

Response to Issues Raised in Table Discussion:

  • Data  will be held by central government.
  • Sharing will take place via a data matching process.
  • There are no intentions to link up the records data in order to create an identity database.
  • The purpose of the data share will be specific to the public function of a department or body  and restrictions  on sharing information will continue to be in place.
  • Consent will be required in certain circumstances.
  • There are potential benefits from sharing information wider than government, however this proposal is focused on sharing within government.

High level narrative

Sue shared a two minute summary of the draft narrative in the spirit of the OPM sessions, in order to gather feedback from the group and help ensure future iterations reflect the :

Data is a vastly untapped resource –  with the potential to change and improve our lives and underpinning next wave of digital service reform.

By using information in Government more effectively we can revolutionise the way we interact with people,


  • seamlessly use information better to provide better services every day,
  • develop fit for purpose policy, whilst at the same time reducing costs for organisations and saving money for the taxpayer.


The current data sharing landscape is very complex

Restrictions are often placed on how information government can access from other parts of government, even where it is the greater public interest to share it.

And understanding the application of legislation is difficult – leading to practices that are over-cautious and inflexible, with data untapped or locked away in silos.

There are challenges and barriers in accessing data across organisational or departmental boundaries, often resulting in duplication of data collection and storing, which can be costly to the taxpayer.

While some gateways exist to permit the  disclosure of data between specified public bodies, there are many examples of where they have been created over-cautiously, often significantly limiting what information can be disclosed and to whom.

We recognise that the complexity of the current landscape means it would be nigh on impossible to try and tackle everything – so we have been running the OPM process and set up a consultation look at how we can remove barriers to data sharing within Government in a way that provides a better experience or service for the public.

Better data sharing offers us vast opportunities, in particular around policy development by providing up to date and fuller evidence on issues such as social mobility, economic growth and crime prevention. This consultation forms part of an open policy-making process we have been running together with government and civil society organisations since March 2014.

Our conversations have led to a focus on access to data for the purpose of


  • Better research and statistics -whereby  more complete and up to date information would be a rich source for researchers  to use  and would create a clear and accurate evidence base to inform critical decisions
  • The prevention of fraud and recovery of debt – meaning we can put taxpayers money to the purpose it was intended
  • Providing Tailored Public Services  – providing the right services at the right time – and we would see GRO and DECC proposals as part of this broader strand

Our proposals for new legislation will not give the Government fundamental new powers.

They will provide greater clarity in what can be shared as well as flexibility for government to respond to policy and public needs as they emerge.

Data will continue to be protected, using both data protection principles and safeguards and embedding them into any proposed legislation.

Proposed powers would provide  specific and immediate benefits across government to enable better and more efficient services unlock data as a driver of further public service reform. Furthermore, they will allow government to better understand and develop the right policies to support the modern digital economy and the public


Everyone was asked to stand up and show their levels of support for the narrative.

Feedback from the room:

  • “The proposals fit into the context of the narrative”.
  • “Proposals save money, more effective service delivery, fits with the narrative”.
  • “more enthusiasm and specificity, e.g. ‘this could improve people’s lives in concrete ways’”.
  • “The knives seem to be out for privacy campaigners in this process, no real detail or why/how the benefits work, other than just restating ‘it’s good to share data’, not much has been shared today, across the board, it’s a learning experience, but crucially a sharing experience”.
  • “we’re missing the context that these discussions are taking place,  positive stories like Google flu trends are being used. Other contexts are ignored, this data revolution that is taking place is out of control and everyone is tracked online etc. we are in the age where we are becoming digital profiles, a spectrum is emerging between tech driven authoritarianism on one extreme to citizens having digital autonomy on the other, the state should reflect on this”.
  • “It doesn’t reflect on who we need to consult with, it’s not addressed to the public or drawing out the benefits by conflating too many things and making them unclear, the consultation respondents should have questions like outsourcing, private companies, funding etc. should already be covered in the narrative, of Local Authorities are to give a meaningful response, this should be framed with this view”.
  • “The official stats, de-identified data and some of the GRO things are about research and anonymisation, with lots of detailed safeguards. None of the questions around debt/fraud etc. maybe it would be better to divide up the package between research elements and efficiency elements, more detail is required in the bill about who is going to appeal, who to, and what are the legal rights?”.
  • “Central issue about the benefits of sharing data, but there are lots of additional proposals bolted on and there is a huge amount of things being consulted on. The debt question jars with the public benefit narrative”.
  • “Debt and fraud sound more like research with the piloting and testing of the system, just looking at a legal gateway in itself is not enough for people to decide upon. In some of the areas,  it needs to be made clear that some parts are for policy development and others for different things”.
  • “When this goes to consultation, separate audiences will have specific interests in specific areas”.
  • “There are fundamental areas that need to be addressed, stating what is trying to be achieved”.
  • “Greater clarity is required, as people new to the process are asking questions that have arisen before, this would indicate a lack of coherence and communication with the proposals.”


Sue explained that taking the various proposals through as a single package is partly to ensure that things were brought to the OPM group that were relevant, rather than as single, disparate work strands.

Tim drew the session to a close – asking guests to think about who needs to be engaged in the process of consultation to try and broaden the process out to as inclusive a group as possible.

Suggestions for engagement in consultation:

The following groups and organisations were highlighted by the OPM group as valuable to contribute towards the consultation process:

  • Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)
  • Range of local service providers (e.g. for troubled families)
  • National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC)
  • UCAS
  • Schools (time issues – could go through specific vehicle e.g. UCAS)
  • Catch22, Prince’s trust
  • Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS)
  • Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)

Invitation to data sharing sessions in January 2016

Many of you were involved in the year-long open policy-making process on data sharing proposals, which concluded before the General Election. During this process we looked at policy proposals to improve public sector access to data for the purposes of:

  • supporting better research and statistics to enable better evidence-based decision making on the modern economy and social issues;
  • combating fraud against the public sector and reducing debt with government; and
  • ensuring that public services are delivered to those who need them, when they need them, by better targeted delivery.

Since the conclusions of the process were made available at earlier this year we have continued to develop the proposals in the spirit of what was agreed, on which we may go to public consultation in late January/February 2016. In advance of this, you are invited to attend two sessions in January, to:

  • Update you on our work since
  • Review, improve & feedback on the proposals
  • Help shape the upcoming consultation

The first session will take place on 6 January and the second on 19 January. Both sessions will run between 10am to 2pm in a venue to be confirmed in Central London.

We appreciate that the Christmas and New Year period will place many demands on your time, but we would be grateful if you could make time to contribute your views to this important matter and set a placeholder in your diaries. We will send you an agenda and discussion papers shortly along with confirmation of the venue. We expect a lot of interest in the event, so please let us know as soon as possible if you would like to attend.

Cabinet Office Data Sharing Team

Please RSVP for the sessions via the following links. They will cover different issues, so ideally we would like participants to attend both:
Session 1, which will review the data sharing proposals:
Session 2, which will review the possible public consultation:

Concluding plenary workshop with Francis Maude | 10 March 2015 | Meeting note


On 10th March 2015, a plenary meeting was held to conclude the data sharing open policy process, attended by representatives from privacy groups, civil society organisations and government.


Peter Lawrence (Cabinet Office) introduced the session and gave a recap of the policy process so far. The open policy process has taken place over the past year. It was established due to the recognition that the complexity and potential controversy of data sharing means it could not be developed behind closed doors. The policy process set out to find and build consensus, but where consensus could not be found it would seek to understand the disagreement.

He summarised where each of the strands had got to. This is outlined in the Conclusions policy paper.

Progress of the strands

Simon Burall (Involve) introduced the next session. There are issues still to be resolved across the three strands, but the policy process has reached an area of rest. Participants were split into groups to discuss the strands and given the task of describing what the state of rest looks like. Specifically, each group was asked to discuss what had been banked (i.e. where agreement had been reached); what is still to discuss, and what the different options are.


Tailored public services


  • It’s for social policy objectives
  • It must demonstrate the benefit to the individual.
    • Not punitive intent
    • This is to be used if can’t get informed consent
  • Make an offer to identified people
  • Process transparent
  • Social care and health ‘are in’

To discuss

  • Onward sharing of information. Departments – Partner – Onwards?
  • Good business case – 1 local authority + 1 department
    • How to replicate to be cost effective?


  • Explore “fall out” findings further
    • Safeguarding
    • Fraud
  • Consent/data relating to deceased
  • MyData – individuals hold own
  • LEPs – where in definition of “bodies”


Research & stats


  • Fundamental scope of 3 distinct sub strands (ONS; Trusted Third Party de-identified;HMRC) including how they fit together (coherence)
  • Getting HMRC to same starting point as others
  • Broad power for all public authorities to disclose to each identified data for research and statistics was a step too far
  • Agreed on the need for, and the terminology on, a power for all public authorities to to disclose de-identified data to accredited safe havens using trusted third party indexers for accredited research purposes to accredited researchers
  • Bodies delivering health and social care – appropriate they have separate treatment and get no new powers in the de-identified strand
  • Any requirement for consent would be unworkable for this strand.

To discuss

  • Trusted Third Party governance and control
  • Need for sanctions in de-identified strand?
  • Identified strand: are any of the alternatives to Parliamentary scrutiny of Information Sharing Orders for ONS acceptable?
  • Impact of European Data Protection Regulation
  • Definitions in the legislation still not agreed:
    • Public benefit
    • Public interest
    • Public body
  • Flexibility and future proofing.
    • Scope? Is there scope in the future for data from health bodies to be included in the powerShou
  • Need to make the case continually for the powers
    • Evidence
    • Communications
    • Public engagement
  • Conversations beyond legal barriers


  • Next steps – White Paper
    • What structure?
    • Do all strands belong in the same bill?
    • Would any legislation move forward with ONS power, HMRC power and de-identified power?
  • Fit with other legislation e.g. new EU Data Protection Regulation
  • Funding
    • Governance bodies
    • Of data shares
  • How much of the policy should be in hard legislation and how much included in statutory or non-statutory guidance




  • Most agree error is complex and not suitable / proportionate for data sharing solutions
  • Agree that fraud is a significant problem, which needs addressing
    • Fraud is a cost everyone
  • Pilots provide the opportunity to to better understand tolerance level / cost effectiveness of proposals
  • Survey / feedback to understand citizens views of data sharing
  • Essential that appropriate privacy safeguards are present in proposals
  • Feedback mechanisms built into pilot proposals
  • Consensus on PIA / DPA principles

To discuss

  • A number of representatives from the public sector felt there was greater evidence / certainty of value of data sharing than set out in the paper
  • Data is a facilitator for decision making, not the solution itself
  • Evaluation / what does success look like?
  • What are the tolerance levels for fraud?
    • Cost effective
    • Evaluation is linked to the level, quality of analysis,data cleaning, etc.




  • Best approach is to rely on consent if possible
  • Only rely on compulsion (i.e. legislate) if absolutely necessary
  • Clarified definitional issues

To discuss

  • How will DMI work in practice
    • Openness (FoI)?
  • Will local authorities be included?
  • Is DMI an opportunity to promote best practice and “level up” approach to debtors
  • Prioritisation of debts
  • Tension between benefit to individual and efforts to “get the money in”
  • Sharing with private sector? Individuals have debts with a number of different organisations – private & public
  • Balance success between collection and intrusion
  • Safeguards
  • How to get full picture when some debts not in DMI
  • How to separate success of DMI as a project/initiative and the data sharing aspects
  • Overlap between DMI and statutory debt solutions (e.g. bankruptcy, DRO, etc.)

Reflections from the Minister

Having heard summaries of the group discussion, the Minister for the Cabinet Office reflected on the process. There is a potentially large public benefit to be gained from data sharing, but it is a contentious area with potential risks, and needs to be done in a measured way. There would be no better way to raise suspicion than conducting the policy process in a closed way. Participants had taken part in something groundbreaking – a genuinely open policy making process. He recognised the time and energy that participants had given.

Reflecting on the Tailored Public Services strand, he commented that one of biggest challenges of supporting troubled families is data sharing. Actual and perceived barriers hamper government’s ability to help people. There are two key issues – joining up data and joining up money. Both need to be joined up as close to the individual family as possible, so it’s not about creating big databases. He highlighted the importance of working out the settling point [between opportunities and concerns].

On Research and Statistics, the Minister commented that there are a huge range of issues that we don’t understand, but we have the data that might help us understand. Again he concluded it was about finding the settling point.

Regarding fraud and debt, the Minister stated that there are lots of misperceptions about where data can be shared already. Much of what is needed is about clarity – finding a way through the current patchwork of gateways. On debt he commented that government is not very good at collecting money from those who won’t pay, and not very sensitive to those who can’t pay. Data sharing could help distinguish the two, and support a more humane interaction with those who need it.

To conclude, he highlighted that data sharing is an issue that most new governments don’t want to touch. They get frustrated and see the need for it over time, but then it’s too close to an election. There is no party politics in this and a real opportunity to take forward in early stages of next government.


Q – Why has the role of individuals owning and controlling their data been out of scope for this exercise?

A – Partly because you have to limit things because it could be a conversation you have for ever.’s work on this is now in live beta testing.

Q – Is there scope for civil society organisations to engage on the Debt Market Integrator?

A – Absolutely yes.

Q – What cross party support is there?

A – A lot. All main parties have had recent experience of government and understand the issues.

Q – Potential White Paper – is it overly complicated with strands structure?

A – Good question with no perfect answer. Issue is the simpler you make it, the more all encompassing you make it. It needs to be simplified, but not at cost of benefits we can take from doing in a more complicated way.

Q – It’s been helpful to have a strong but open leadership from Cabinet Office. Would like to build on that post election.

A – Credit to the team. It’s not a comfortable way of doing things. Credit to team for embracing. We now understand what the prize is.

Next steps

The Minister departed and the conversation moved onto the next steps. Groups were formed around four issues for consideration.

Policy & white paper

  • Creating White Paper that’s accessible and engaging. Rational.
  • Difficult to understand across the strands. How do we describe strands. Alternative:
    • Tagline: Reprocessing data for public good.
    • Two themes – administrative (things that have positive impact on individual) – statistical (no impact on the individual)
  • Using examples and case studies.
  • Identifying cultural as well as legal issue.
  • Scrutiny processes that work in a cohesive way.

Citizen engagement and consultation

  • Who are we trying to engage with? How to get representative groups?
  • Meaningful engagement.
  • Need to ensure not hijacked by particular groups.
  • Clarity about intention and outcomes.
  • Need to understand public attitudes and what individuals think is important.
  • Different strands using for operational purposes and others not.
  • Sharing consensus points.
  • Simple messages that resonate with public
  • Need to engage public through case studies and examples – can’t engage in abstract.
  • E-petitions will gather lots of feedback. Need to think of digital forms of engagement.
  • Red lines: Don’t renegotiate – consult – on banked ideas. But will be a question for the next government. But…
  • Can’t guarantee that will be sacrosanct, but will need to be substantial case for change. New evidence, etc.


  • Complex message – and different messages on different strands. Essential to use plain and jargon-free language.
  • Need a communications strategy. Stakeholder analysis and segmentation to tailor messages.
  • Need to have good examples that resonate with people.
  • Important to get champions from outside of government.
  • Being clear about the public benefits and risks – so can have mature conversation.
  • Using the right channels at the right time.
  • Can expect negative media attention – need to put consistent and clear message out.

Devolved nations and regions

  • Lots of discussion going on about devolution – need to make sure that we’re engaging those areas with discussions
  • Control over aims, rather than data. Some data can’t be owned by devolved areas.
  • Joining together contacts in devolved regions. Using networks and assets.
  • Future proofing. Establishing trust.

Closing remarks

Simon Burall (Involve) recognised the time people had given up to participate and thanked the Cabinet Office team for their role.

Peter Lawrence reported that the Cabinet Office team would take on the points they’d heard in the meeting. Over the next few weeks the will start to pull together into a draft White Paper, which a new government can make a decision to take forward if they wish. The Cabinet Office team will have to go quiet during the pre-election purdah period, but will talk to people again when they can .

When there’s a new government, there will be something robust to give to them, with options for next steps. One of the key questions is how to engage the public in this conversation.

Conclusions of civil society and public sector policy discussions on data use in government

Since March 2014 civil society organisations, privacy groups, officials from a number of government departments, academics and representatives from parts of the wider public sector have been collectively discussing how government can be made to be more efficient and effective through its use of data. The core focus has been to enhance the availability of high quality research and statistics from administrative data; prevent fraud and help citizens manage the debt they have with government; and ensure the right services are offered to the right person at the right time.

A paper outlining the conclusions of this open policy process has now been published, available here:

The findings and recommendations set out in this paper will inform future work in the area, which may involve further consultation. Please direct any comments you have on the paper to Sam Roberts <<>> and Firoze Salim <<>> at the Cabinet Office, preferably by the end of 18th February 2015.

Summary of civil society and public sector policy discussions on data use in government

Since March 2014 civil society organisations, privacy groups, government departments, academics and the wider public sector have been collectively discussing how government can be made to be more efficient and effective through its use of data. The core focus has been to enhance the availability of high quality research and statistics from administrative data; prevent fraud, reduce error and help citizens manage debt they have with government; and ensure the right services are offered to the right person at the right time. This document sets out the current thoughts emerging from each of those areas.

Summary of Interim Findings OPM data sharing [PDF]

Annexes to Summary of Interim findings OPM data sharing [PDF]

Plenary workshop with Francis Maude | 22 Oct 2014 | Meeting note

10:00 – 13:00, 22nd October 2014
Admiralty House, Ripley Courtyard, 26 Whitehall, London


For the past 6 months, representatives from government, the wider public sector, academics, privacy organisations, and wider civil society have been discussing data sharing as a solution to three issues.

  • Better understanding UK society and economy, through enhanced research and statistics
  • Tackling fraud and better management of debt
  • More effective tailoring of public services

These open policy discussions have resulted in an interim progress update which summarises the current areas of consensus and disagreement. This half-day session on the 22nd October, jointly facilitated by the Cabinet Office and Involve, allowed civil society organisations to review with policy officials and the Minister the progress and findings thus far, and discuss next steps.

Introduction to the session by Simon Burall & Peter Lawrence

The objective of the plenary workshop was outlined; to ensure that the interim update was a fair reflection of progress to date and agree how to move forwards.

The group were updated on longer term objectives. Originally the hope was that consensus could be reached around September after which a White Paper and or draft legislative clauses could be developed. However, it was now clear that whilst high level consensus had been reached on many matters there was still much to discuss on how current thinking could be implemented in a way that would enhance public services whilst maintaining citizen privacy. Therefore the expectation of a White Paper or draft clauses being published in this Parliament was removed. It was suggested that moving forward with discussions around points of detail would enhance the level from which any following publications or public consultations would then begin.

The workshop was framed as a staging point, to work out where the group agrees, disagrees and where more work needs to be done.

Open space discussions

The process

There was discussion looking both backward and forward. The group suggested it would be helpful to understand the levels of engagement in the process through numbers of attendees from civil society and government at the various meetings. It would also be helpful to acknowledge barriers to engagement, such as time, resources, location and issues such as high impact data sharing decisions or policies being announced at short notice from other parts of government being prioritised. This would feed into lessons learned from the process.

The group also suggested that there should be an acknowledgement of how the policy paper might be used in future, as a platform for future policy proposals.

Having undertaken some round table discussions, where people were free to move from group to group the feedback was:

Research & statistics

The group felt that the paper as it stands should address issues relating to the application of any resulting powers in relation to third parties and the devolved administrations. It was also felt the paper needs to be clearer on the questions of the destruction, retention and timescales for each agreed, accredited or approved data share. There needed to be more on: scrutiny options and concerns around them, the cost and the benefits, clarity around information assurance strands and the consequences that could arise from current review of EU data protection legislation.

Fraud, error and debt

The group fed back that the government’s ‘digital by default’ agenda is central to questions of data around fraud, error and debt, and government should be able to share data automatically, otherwise there would be no benefit gained from digital by default.

The group also made the point that government is doing a lot of work on data sharing at the moment, which is not reflected in the report. There needs to be greater use of case studies made, of where it’s worked well.

The group also reflected that there needs to be a better reflection of debt and the problems around debt. Should we take debt off the table, as it’s different to error and fraud?

Tailored public services

The group asked the question: how do we assess the benefits of data sharing and make the business case? Is it possible to evidence the assertion that the majority would benefit?

They also discussed consent, asking: what is the mechanism for those who want to withdraw consent?

The group also felt there needed to be more work done on defining the objectives in the draft.

In the context of public services delivered by others outside of the public sector it was asked what the implications might be for third sector, private sector or other external bodies, for example those delivering commissioned services.

The Minister’s reflections

The minister thanked those present for their contribution so far. He welcomed the degree of engagement and commitment of the group, especially non-governmental actors for who contributing to this process was an additional burden beyond the day job. He said being open was the only way to conduct a process like this – doing it the ‘old world’ way would not work in this territory.

We’re working in the public interest, which is very complex. There is a real benefit in using the data we have better, and this is an uncontroversial outlook. However, people are rightly concerned with government abuse of data, and this is a counter opinion. The third dimension is that technology is changing minute by minute, and this discussion of mixed use data would not have been the same five years ago. This is a hugely worthwhile exercise and the more we know between us the more chance we have of finding the point of settling and consensus.

The risks and threats will change, to privacy, security and the abuse of state power, but the possibilities and benefits will also change.

The Minister described the process as incredibly beneficial and ground-breaking in its focus on collaboration.

He asked everyone to remain engaged as we move forward to the next steps of looking at lower level detail. He suggested a checkpoint of the end of the year.

The Minister noted his intention to check in with government colleagues across all parties, as it’s not a party political issue. He was hoping to have draft legislation ready for the next parliament with a high degree of consensus. He acknowledged it was unlikely anything more formal would happen in this Parliament, but noted as he was a politician he wouldn’t, of course, rule it out.

Questions to the minister

  • What is consent? How do you revoke it? How can you consent to a monopoly service? Should you, and how do you, remove consent from de-identified data for targeted services?
  • What is the aspiration on data-sharing? What does the minister feel the negatives are? Looking for a political steer.
  • Using private sector techniques for debt collection is an area of concern. Debt is fundamentally different from fraud and error, when the issue is that people fundamentally cannot afford to pay back a debt to the government.
  • Worry about the lines blurring between statistical and operational data, and giving government access to identifiable data. This could be a red line for civil society.
  • Comment that an independent code of practice on data matching is necessary. Statutory sharing is a challenge to the Data Protection Act so a code is necessary.
  • Will there be acknowledgment of this work present on

Next steps

Research & statistics

Going forward the default for this strand would be communication by documente-mail with meetings only where necessary. By Christmas, the group plans to circulate justification and powers on trusted third parties, push health to come back on the exclusion de-identification strand and engage with open policy-making members on the process for devolved issues. ONS is reviewing detail of options around what could possibly stand instead of Parliamentary scrutiny, this will be shared for comment to the OPM group as soon as possible.

Fraud, error, & debt

The group discussed plans to conduct social media sentiment analysis, with the aim to understand the appetite and tolerance point on data-sharing for fraud, error and debt. They are planning an internal government wide survey to understand the data sets which are necessary and the perceived barriers. They plan to develop pilots and a bank of case study data in order to evidence the benefits of data sharing. There was a discussion of what is possible to do without legislation.

By Christmas, the group plan to have completed the surveys (both external and internal) and developed the bank of case study data. Designing the pilots will take until the end of January.

Further discussion on the future of the Debt element would need to take place quickly to decide if it should remain in play, and if so whether as part of the fraud and error strand or as a separate strand.

Tailored public services

The Tailored Public Services strand will look in detail at the objectives with a draft list to be developed with rationale. Half day sessions with smaller group work will be timetabled, in order to look at detail around defining benefit to citizens.

More work will be undertaken with local authorities in order to understand who they are working with. This will help to answer the question of where to draw the boundary between public and private/3rd Sector.

Final Comments

In wrapping up the point was reiterated that there were now no plans for a formal white paper prior to the election. The aim was to review at the end of this year and jointly take a decision on next steps based on progress at that time.

On the topic of databases, it was commented on that the focus of the group should be around permissions and appropriate access levels, rather than size.

The group were at this point reminded the principles underpinning the data sharing work were that we are not interested in:

  • Allowing the indiscriminate sharing of data,
  • Weakening the Data Protection Act,
  • Building large permanent databases or collecting further data.