Public sector information is in crisis. Every mention of sharing or realising the intrinsic value of this data is followed by scare-mongering stories of privacy violation and inferred ineptitude.
Earlier this year the NHS Care.Data was delayed with concerns that the programme had not been fully explained. And in the past month the announcement that HMRC is assessing models for selling its data was met with ill-informed hand-wringing by commentators who specialise in alarm rather than insight.
The public sector remains one of the largest tranches of our society, and our interactions with it create a mass of data. For the past 30 years it has been our ideology to pay less yet demand more from our public services. If quality service is to be sustainable, organisations need revenue.
Not only does the public sector need alternative revenue streams, this country (and it’s not alone) needs to better understand how it operates. We don’t use our natural- or intellectual resources effectively, while our infrastructure is poorly utilised and understood.
A savagely cut public sector can’t be expected to have all the answers. It will deliver greater benefits to partner and share information, benefits beyond a simple and needed income. Richard Corbridge and the NIH are already delivering positive outcomes for patients, NHS trusts, businesses, charities and the UK economy. How many more benefits could be derived if local authorities and other ministries could chart the same course?
The alarmist scare-mongering is driven by an inability to understand data. The UK has the highest levels of CCTV surveillance in the world, while e-commerce, loyalty cards, utility bills and social media ensure every member of our society has a slew of data in the wake of their daily lives. Yet, for some reason, we panic if the NHS wants to improve medicine and healthcare provision, or our taxation body enables organisations to gain insights into the state of the nation.
Sharing public sector information will not be easy, and no doubt mistakes will be made, but if we are truly to live in an information age, we cannot shackle our public sector to a Dickensian data model.