Data—Increasing Openness and Availability

Sep 26, 2017 | Uncategorised | 0 comments

Plenary Wednesday 26 September 2017

18:13
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Spoken Contribution – 18:13:20
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV | View this contribution in the Record of Proceeding document

Thanks to the Minister for bringing forward today’s debate. Now, the Government’s motion today looks perfectly benevolent in that nobody is really going to start arguing that we need less openness in the provision of Government data. What we do need to know, though, is what this greater openness will actually mean in practice. The future intentions of the Welsh Government in providing some new level of openness is all well and good, but how effective is their current provision of Government data and information in general?

Now, Adam Price raised a very specific example just now relating to the difficulties in obtaining Government statistics on grants, but if we look at how they disseminate information in general—in particular, thinking about how the citizen can access this information—it does pose rather a lot of difficulties. In terms of Government spending, the Conservatives raised this in one of their amendments; they’re talking about the publication of spending by public bodies such as local authorities. By coincidence, yesterday I met a couple of representatives from the Marine Conservation Society and they observed that you can’t actually track the level of Welsh Government spending on marine conservation because it’s packaged as part of a general spend in the field of the environment. So, they can’t actually ascertain, themselves, how much of that pot of money is actually being spent on marine conservation. So, that’s one example of where Welsh Government openness of data does need to improve.

But if we think about how the Welsh Government actually deal with information in general, they’re not, perhaps, as benevolent as today’s motion would appear and that they seem to or want to be in their aims. For instance, let’s have a look at the Government statements that we get before the Plenaries once a week. Now, it’s good that we get these, I’m not making a general complaint, but we do get them roughly an hour before—[Interruption.] It’s a courtesy, okay. Thank you for extending the courtesy, but the point is that we all know in this Chamber that we could get this information a lot earlier. We could have got this information probably at the end of last week. So, if you were really going for this policy of more openness, perhaps you could extend that to the field of how you disseminate the Government statements. We do welcome the courtesy, but if you could extend the courtesy, it would be good.

Now, if we look at the Welsh Government website, which is one place where the citizen may first come across Government information, when I mentioned the Welsh Government website to a staff member today, she had an immediate reaction to it. She said, and I quote her exact words, ‘Oh, God, it’s that website where you can’t find anything.’ When I asked her to expand on this remark, she stated that the search function doesn’t appear to work properly: ‘I can never seem to find what I want there and I have to end up Googling the information.’

Another staff member observed that it’s just not kept up to date. It’s all very well being a mouthpiece for whatever the Government want to push out, but if you want to find out about Government policy, it’s the last place you would go, because it’s out of date. They’ll make an announcement, and then they won’t update the page. Recent examples from my own experiences: the housing supply taskforce, set up in 2013—the page was last updated on 4 March 2014. It would appear that that body is now defunct, but the point is that we don’t actually know that from the Welsh Government website, because it doesn’t tell us. It seems to effectively leave things like this hanging in mid-air. It doesn’t make it clear whether the Welsh Government are doing anything in this field of activity or not. So, if this kind of information is to have any value, then the pages need to be regularly updated. Somebody should be specifically tasked with doing this, and also, defunct organisations, grants and schemes need to be removed from the website altogether. We could go on and look at other websites relating to the Government, but probably the point has been made.

So, in general, we do agree with what you’re saying in your motion today, and we only hope that it’s put in practice in some meaningful way. We also agree with the Conservative amendments, which seem to be largely sensible. Now, the Minister did raise the issue that there is a resource implication if you are publishing a lot of information, and I agree that there is going to be a balance and you have to look at that. But, in general, we do agree with the Conservative amendments. The Plaid amendment also seems sensible. Yes, we should integrate our data so that, as far as possible, Welsh Government performance is comparable with that of similar public bodies. But another important point for the future may be how easily obtainable Welsh Government information will be to the layperson or the citizen, as the Minister referred to the person, as well as to the specialist. Thank you.