OGN Letters 15th July 2022

Chair of UK OGN > Minister Heather Wheeler

Dear Minister

Re: Request for support / Open Government Multistakeholder Forum, 22nd June 2022

I am writing to thank you for co-chairing the Multistakeholder Forum (MSF) relating to the fifth UK National Action Plan (NAP) for Open Government, to update on subsequent progress, and to share concerns about a continuing failure to engage on a public standards commitment.

With regards to the MSF, I hope you learnt more about the UK government’s founding role in the now 77 country-strong Open Government Partnership; its current position as a member of the Global Steering Committee; and the Europe Regional Meeting taking place in Rome later this year, at which the UK government would typically be expected to play a leading role.

I also hope you discovered more about the challenging and, at times, fragile process through which civil society and government engage to develop commitments for the NAP. This is why I highlighted both the need for more resources to grow and diversify engagement, and the need for regular MSF meetings, diarised well in advance.

Since the MSF, there have been further, welcome exchanges with officers to add commitments to the NAP including Official Development Assistance (Foreign Aid), Diversity & Inclusion, and Freedom of Information.

However, there has been no engagement on a public standards commitment. This is despite further requests from civil society and a suggestion in the MSF there would be some exchange. Whilst appreciative it has been a tumultuous few weeks in government, the first of many requests for engagement on this theme was made over 18 months ago.

At this late stage in the process, it was hoped a meeting with the Propriety and Ethics team could take place, and that a commitment could be developed, possibly along the lines of establishing a working group to regularise civil society input into future reforms.

The risks of no engagement on public standards are clear.

  • It will undermine the credibility of the NAP process. Civil society groups including The Institute for Government, MySociety, Transparency International UK, the Open Data Institute, Local Government Association and Spotlight on Corruption were amongst those organisations who signed up to work with the government in this area. Previous promises for engagement have been made but not met.

  • It will undermine the role of the UK on the international stage. It is likely the UK will fail to meet Open Government Partnership criteria for a third consecutive time. This could see it declared ‘inactive’ and place its role on the Global Steering Committee in jeopardy. Engagement on public standards now could maintain civil society support for the NAP process, and help begin the process of rebuilding the UK’s reputation. It may also be viewed favourably by the Open Government Partnership in context of their decision-making with regards to the Global Steering Committee.

Contenders for the role of Prime Minister have rightly highlighted the importance of standards and integrity. A commitment to engage civil society is a tangible and powerful way to demonstrate the government is serious about this agenda. There is still time, the Open Government Partnership deadline is August 31st, but it would require your urgent intervention.

I hope you can assist with this and encourage officers from the Propriety and Ethics team to engage as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely

Kevin Keith
Co-chair Multistakeholder Forum
Chair UK Open Government Network