News 12th May 2016

OGN statement on the UK Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18

by Tim Hughes

Statement from the UK Open Government Network steering committee on the publication of the UK Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18

Open government is the simple but powerful idea that governments and institutions work better for citizens when they are transparent, engaging and accountable. It is not a set of lofty principles, but the building block for a more democratic, equal and sustainable society.

The consequences of opaque and unaccountable government are clear to see. Secrecy enables corruption, injustice, and negligence to go unchecked. The release of the Panama Papers revealed the scale of global resources hidden in secretive tax havens. Detailed investigations have shown the extent of UK property bought with dirty money by shadow companies. Lobbying scandals have revealed how vested interests seek to influence public decision-making. Public scandals, from Hillsborough to Mid-Staffordshire, have demonstrated the devastating consequences of unaccountable secrecy.

The UK Open Government Network (the OGN) was established by civil society in 2011 in response to the UK joining the Open Government Partnership. Since then we have sought to build a broad coalition of active citizens and civil society organisations to secure robust and ambitious open government reforms. In preparation for this action plan, we crowdsourced an Open Government Manifesto outlining 28 proposals as draft commitments. Via an online platform and a series of workshops, we heard from over 250 members of civil society on their priorities for reform, including opening up public contracting, government budgets, devolution deals, public service delivery, state surveillance and company ownership.

We welcome the progress made on a number of the OGN’s priorities in this National Action Plan, and particularly endorse the progress on open contracting, beneficial ownership transparency and parliamentary openness. We trust that the shift to a rolling action plan will enable us to add commitments and milestones to continue to increase the ambition and comprehensiveness of the plan over the next two years. There are a number of areas of open government that are important to the OGN that are not included in the plan. These include open budgeting, lobbying transparency and transparency of surveillance. We will continue to push the government to make reforms in these areas.

We commend the collaborative approach taken to develop this action plan, and particularly welcome the partnership with civil society, devolved governments and parliaments. This approach, although challenging at times, has resulted in a stronger set of commitments and will help to drive progress across the UK’s nations.

Good open government reforms secure significant and lasting change to the way government and wider society operates, transferring power from the powerful to the powerless, and ensuring that decision makers are responsive and accountable to citizens. Too often governments can use the language of openness as a facade to cover inaction or regression on critical issues.

Governments in the UK are not exempt from this, and we must ensure that openness and accountability are embedded across its institutions. We will continue to collaborate with and hold government to account for its progress.

UK Open Government Network steering committee

Andy Williamson, Democratise
Anthony Zacharzewski, The Democratic Society
Claire Schouten, International Budget Partnership
Colm Burns, Northern Ireland Open Government Network
Lucy McTernan, SCVO and Scotland Open Government Network
Martin Tisne, The Omidyar Network
Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK
Simon Burall, Involve
Tim Davies, Practical Participation
Tim Hughes, UK Open Government Network coordinator