Headlines: March 8th, 2010

The Audit Commission is taking another step to stimulate debate on transparency in the public sector in the information age. It has published the second discussion paper in its ‘Truth’ series ‘The truth is out there’. It asks questions including ‘What information will capture the public’s imagination?’ and ‘How will the public know what information to trust?’

It follows a paper in November last year which looked at the reliability of facts and figures used by councils, health trusts, social workers, doctors and police. Now, the Commission says, the focus of the debate has changed to focus on the quality, accessibility, volume and trustworthiness of information available to the public.

The new paper says the information that captures people’s imagination is the most likely to be used and simply depositing large volumes of data online is not enough to give people more choice or to improve decision making. It also highlights the increasing number of what it calls ‘infomediaries’ who present data in ways people like to use. It cites the international popularity of smartphone and computer applications on topics as diverse as your local MP, potholes, and checking up on blind dates.

The Chief Executive of the Audit Commission, Steve Bundred, said: “Making information available online can do more than help people make choices about using public services. It can enhance democracy by giving people more of a voice. If we know what decisions our councillors or MPs are facing, what they are spending taxes on, and what the results are, we can hold politicians and public servants to account, identify waste and even expose corruption,” Mr. Bundred said.

The Commission wants to stimulate debate on transparency in the public sector and is inviting online comments via thetruth@audit-commission.gov.uk