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UK.gov descales public data with new corp launch

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The UK government may have abolished a shedload of quangos in recent months, but the Cabinet Office has arguably just created a shiny, new one – step forward the Public Data Corporation.

Data and government bodies will be squished into one organisation to make yet-to-be-revealed datasets available to the public, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said yesterday.

However, the government said it would only “make more data free at the point of use, where this is appropriate and consistent with ensuring value for taxpayers’ money”.

That’s a statement that could worry open data advocates, who might be wondering if the announcement represents the ConDem Coalition’s first big effort to ringfence some information that the public wants to see freed up.

“At present many state agencies face a conflict between maximising revenues from the sale of data and making the data freely available to be exploited for social and economic gain,” said Maude.

“Creating the PDC will enable the conflicts at the least to be managed consistently with a view to opening up access, and at best to be eliminated."

The balancing act Maude alluded to is one that the Ordnance Survey agency has been tackling over the past few years.

It’s not yet clear if OS data that was recently set free by the UK’s mapmaker, which operates as a trading fund, will be served up via the newly created corporation.

An Ordnance Survey spokesman told The Register that it welcomed the coalition's creation of the PDC.

"Ordnance Survey is aware of the government plans to create a new Public Data Corporation and fully supports the drive to open up the use of data to support the transparency agenda. This was highlighted in April 2010 when Ordnance Survey released a diverse range of mapping data, for free, under OS OpenData."

He added that the OS would support the government's development of the corporation. However, the Cabinet Office is yet to outline what data will be pumped out of the PDC.

The government said yesterday that there will be "opportunities for private investment in the corporation". All of this seems to suggest that it wants to squeeze as much money out of the body as possible, while potentially paying what amounts to lip service to the public with the datasets it decides to set free. ®

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