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Poor data quality hindering government open data programme

Computer Weekly - Poor data quality is hindering the UK government's flagship open data programme, intended to reform the public sector by making it more transparent and accountable.

Public bodies have published spending records every month since November 2010 under a coalition programme billed as encouraging voters to become "armchair auditors" and to make politicians more accountable.

But experts say the government's data releases have been of such poor quality that public scrutiny is all but impossible.

A Computer Weekly analysis of 50 spending data releases by the Cabinet Office since May 2010 has shown they were so marred by "dirty data" and inconsistent computer encoding, systematic scrutiny would require advanced computer programming skills.

Ian Makgill, whose company Spend Network has processed 42 million public spending records from 7,500 spreadsheets, said the data was troublesome. "There's a range of problems with this data," he said. "Central government has pulled the wool over ministers' eyes. They don't want the accountability."

He accused some public bodies of "wilful" defiance of the coalition government's data edict. Wigan Council withheld spending data unless ordered under Freedom of Information law, while The Ministry of Justice refused to publish spending data until the information commissioner ordered it in February. Makgill said public bodies feared unfair criticism from tabloid newspapers.