Govt report backs 'free' data

I wasn’t especially nice about the interim progress report on Power of Information Review, in that I didn’t see much specific progress being reported. So it came as a bit of a shock to discover, courtesy of the Open Rights Group, that there’s actually something really significant in it.
The interim report announced that:

HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) commissioned Cambridge University to undertake a study into the different models for charging for and defining public sector information. This is has (sic) been publicly released [External website].

I know, I know… that’s quite some call to action. You’re all simply dying to click on that link. But if you did, you’d eventually find your way to this report by three Cambridge University academics, published in late February, which concluded:

It was found that, in most cases, a marginal cost regime would be welfare improving – that is, the benefits to society of moving to a marginal cost regime outweighed the costs.
For registration based trading funds (DVLA, Companies House and the Land Registry) it likely (sic) that this change in charging policy could be made without the need for government to provide additional funds as any shortfall could be made up from the registration side of their activities.
For the other trading funds some direct assistance, beyond that already provided, would be required. In the case of the UKHO and the Met Office the sums involved would be limited (around £1m) but in the case of Ordnance Survey would be substantially larger (though the benefits in this case would be commensurably bigger).
One added benefit of adopting the marginal cost pricing scheme suggested by the analysis is that it would immediately address the competition concerns raised by the OFT as, a fortiori, outside organizations would now have access to ‘unrefined’ (‘upstream’) data on the same terms as the trading fund itself.

I’m no expert on all this stuff, but I know enough to recognise there are potentially staggering implications in this. And it’s surely useful ammunition for efforts like Free Our Bills.

Minister wants more social media

Tom Watson publishes (what looks like) a speech announcing the formation of a Power Of Information Taskforce, to be chaired by former LibDem MP Richard Allan (now senior manager of UK&I government affairs at Cisco), taking forward the Power Of Information report by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg.
An interim Progress Report on Power was published yesterday… but frankly, there’s nothing especially substantial to report. Plenty of talk about pilots and guidelines, though. I’m keen to see what Jeremy Gould makes of the report’s claim that ‘the government supported a Barcamp initiated by the Ministry of Justice.’ And I’m not sure I’d get too excited about an OPSI discussion forum with ‘over 70 messages’ in it.
This contrasts so sharply with the moves made by Downing Street last week, throwing themselves at the mercy of the Twitterverse – and winning quite a few friends by doing so. No need for lengthy stakeholder consultation, or strategy papers. It was clearly a good idea; so they just did it. (And believe me, No10 aren’t finished yet, not by a long shot. More on that later this week.)
The two most interesting lines in Tom’s speech are, I’d say, the ‘draft guidance on how public servants can use social media’ being put to the Taskforce ‘later this week’ (confirming a rumour I’d heard from elsewhere); and his call for:

more use of techniques commonplace now in the wider world, internal blogs, wikis, discussion forums, shared workspaces, all still quite rare within the machine.

Yes folks, the Minister actively wants you to use blogs and wikis. Your business case just wrote itself.