The UK government is urging entrepreneurs to make use of open public data by developing applications that can help benefit consumers and the society. 

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude made the call at an event at Downing Street today where Prime Minister David Cameron was awarding prizes to eight groups of university students who have won a competition to design consumer applications using open public information.

“These applications prove the potential power of public data to drive entrepreneurial growth, choice and competition in public services.

“This government has the ambition to be the most transparent in the world. Since we came to office, we have begun to publish more government datasets, in a useable format, than any other country but we need entrepreneurs to start developing it,” Maude said.

Open data is a key part of the government’s 'transparency agenda', as it believes that open data can help to reform public services, foster innovation and empower citizens.

Cameron announced his plans to publish key data on the NHS, criminal courts, schools and transport earlier this year.

As part of the Silicon Valley Comes to UK programme’s ‘appathon’ competition, students designed applications using health, education and environment data available on the government’s website

The winning tools included ones that enabled people to find local vocational skills training providers, find the local hospital with the shortest accident and emergency waiting times, and to choose schools. These were called Coursehorse, A&Express and SchoolHunt, respectively.

As well as receiving awards at Downing Street, representatives of each winning group will get to visit entrepreneurial technology companies in Silicon Valley in March 2012.

“The appathon provided students with a capacity to code with a fantastic opportunity to show what they could do, gathering real-world experience. It’s crucial that university students gain these skills,” said Sherry Coutu, co-chair of Silicon Valley Comes to UK, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to inspire students to start their own business or join an entrepreneurial company after graduation.

Around 870 students from 15 universities took part in the month-long appathon competition last month.