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Coalition Programme for Government: Transparency pledges

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Earlier today, David Cameron and Nick Clegg unveiled their joint plans for government, which they say will  create the “radical” change the UK needs.

The joint Programme for Government attempts to combine the best of both Conservative and Liberal Democrat election manifestos.

The coalition partners said it represents a programme for five years of partnership government driven by the values freedom, fairness and responsibility:

“We believe that it can deliver radical, reforming government, a stronger society, a smaller state, and power and responsibility in the hands of every citizen. Great change and real progress lie ahead”

Coalition Programme

Transparency

The coalition agreement devotes a whole section to government transparency. It says how important it is for government to open the doors of public bodies to ensure they are held accountable for their actions and spending. The importance of setting government data free is also recognised as a catalyst towards “enabling businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites”.

The coalition pledges are taken primarily from the Conservative party manifesto, but it also includes election promises from the Liberal Democrats. The pledges include

  • We will require public bodies to publish online the job titles of every member of staff and the salaries and expenses of senior officials paid more than the lowest salary permissible in Pay Band 1 of the Senior Civil Service pay scale, and organograms that include all positions in those bodies. – Conservative manifesto pledge
  • We will require anyone paid more than the Prime Minister in the centrally funded public sector to have their salary signed off by the Treasury. – Conservative manifesto pledge
  • We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency. – Lib Dem manifesto pledge
  • We will also pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics. – Lib Dem manifesto pledge (although not capped at £10,000 as in their manifesto)
  • We will strengthen the powers of Select Committees to scrutinise major public appointments. – Conservative manifesto pledge
  • We will introduce new protections for whistleblowers in the public sector. – Conservative election pledge
  • We will take steps to open up government procurement and reduce costs; and we will publish government ICT contracts online. – Conservative manifesto pledge
  • We will create a level playing field for open- source software and will enable large ICT projects to be split into smaller components. – Conservative manifesto pledge (“Better” IT procurement though utilising open-source software was also a Lib Dem pledge)
  • We will require full, online disclosure of all central government spending and contracts over £25,000. – Conservative manifesto pledge
  • We will create a new ‘right to data’ so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and then published on a regular basis. – Conservative manifesto pledge
  • We will require all councils to publish meeting minutes and local service and performance data. – While not explicitly stated in the Conservative manifesto, it in the spirit of their overall aim to ensuring ‘people have a right to government data thus making the performance of the state more transparent.’
  • We will require all councils to publish items of spending above £500, and to publish contracts and tender documents in full. – Conservative manifesto pledge
  • We will ensure that all data published by public bodies is published in an open and standardised format, so that it can be used easily and with minimal cost by third parties. – Conservative manifesto pledge

“Our political system is broken

Along with the pledges on transparency the government also commits to “fundamental political reform”. This was a key Liberal Democrat demand, and the statement below seems highly influenced by their perspective of the UK electoral system. While they won almost a quarter of the overall vote, that earned them only 9 percent of the seats in Parliament:

The Government believes that our political system is broken. We urgently need fundamental political reform, including a referendum on electoral reform, much greater co-operation across party lines, and changes to our political system to make it far more transparent and accountable.

There are many other pledges on political reform, but one of the most participatory in terms of civic engagement is the the plan to ‘introduce a new ‘public reading stage’ for bills. This is intended to give the public an opportunity to comment on proposed legislation online. Along with this there will be a dedicated ‘public reading day’ within a bill’s committee stage where those comments will be debated by the committee scrutinising the bill.”

This was a Conservative election pledge to try to open up the legislative process and improve the scrutiny of proposed legislation, while still retaining the fundamental character of our representative democracy.

The next government looks set to vastly expand the range of data available on sites such as data.gov.uk, while also expanding the scope of the Freedom of Information Act (another pledge outlined in the coalition agreement). The plans outlined today regarding government transparency and accountability look all set to meet David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s stated ambition to:

distribute power and opportunity to people rather than hoarding authority within government. That way, we can build the free, fair and responsible society we want to see.

For more on today’s Coalition agreement, and for a video of the event check Number 10 news page.

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