Martin Read report on government data – with promising proposals

We recently featured the government data report, “Practical Steps to Improve Management Information in Government” (you can read the report here). It was written by Martin Read, the ex Logica chief, and we explained how it took our Freedom of Information request to get it published, presumably because it is pretty critical of current data management in government.

It is an impressive piece of work – compared to most of these government sponsored reports by external gurus / czars / experts, a lot of work clearly went into it, it has a lot of detail and is written by someone who understands the subject.

Data and management information are critical to good decision making, and that is true in procurement as elsewhere. The spend analysis work that has been driven by Government Procurement Service for instance has given the best and clearest view so far of what is actually being spent across (at least) central government.

Anyway, Read is highly critical in the report, saying that data in general (not specifically the procurement analysis) isn’t quality assured,  and is derived, communicated and presented on an inconsistent basis. There is a lack of clear accountability, and no strategy for MI and data in the centre. (But remember this was written a year ago, so the government claims much of this has been resolved).

The recommendations seem pragmatic and well-considered and if you look at Annex 11 –which lays out the difference between the old and the proposed Quarterly Data Summary - , it all looks very sensible. It does seem incredible incidentally that the old QDS only compared spend data with the last period – not against budget or the previous year! That’s a sign of how poor some of the previous practice was.

Actually, the Annexes have a lot of good stuff in them – Annex 12 is a list of every regular data item requested regularly by the Cabinet Office . Quite a lot are procurement related, but it must be approaching a thousand in total, and includes gems like “No. of Roman Catholic Female apprentices - By Work Pattern”.  Or the number of “ Electronic smart boards (interactive, linked to computer)”.

Finally, and perhaps most interesting, Annexes 14 and 15 show what the Cabinet Office hopes to do under the new data regime. There are two sides to that, firstly, to produce themselves ( but I assume for public consumption) real and meaningful performance comparisons between departments, in a graphical and understandable manner.

Then they also say that a “web application has been developed to allow the public to view a detailed breakdown of government spending. The data used will be a combination of statistics from Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses, QDS and other government sources”.

Annex 15 gives some screenshots of the type of material that will be available to users, and it looks like good and interesting stuff, allowing for instance the sort of category based spend analysis that procurement people would be familiar with.

We’ll keep an eye on that and take a further look when it is available, but in the meantime, well done to Read and his team, even if it is a shame someone (in Treasury, we believe) sat on the report for almost a year!

First Voice

  1. steve mullins:

    Overall, a very helpful debate – and conclusion/definition – thank you, Peter

    Recall working on a number care services procurement strategies for various county councils and always getting bogged down at some point on this very issue around the ‘procurement/commissioning’ conundrum


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