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Open data mashups, that's exactly what UK needs

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Analysis Since the Tories came to power courtesy of a Coalition deal with the Lib Dems in May 2010, two words continue to be bounced around the walls of Whitehall: open and transparency.

Later today, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will detail his painful plans to grow Britain's deflated economy. His autumn statement to the House of Commons follows on from an OECD report on Monday that said it expected UK output to continue to fall in the final three months of this year and the first quarter of 2012, prompting fears of a double-dip recession.

Number 11's occupant will doubtless want to be drowning out concerns expressed by the economy's worrywarts. And what better way to do that, the argument from within the Cabinet Office goes at least, than to open up some more datasets to British citizens.

Apparently Blighty is about to become the open data centre of the world and citizens in their frayed trousers and greying shirts should be upstanding and proud.

The chancellor will reveal the latest chapter in this, er, success story that plants the Silicon Roundabout in the middle of the government's Media2.0Websluts-will-save-us-all-parade by promising to make travel easier, healthcare better and to bring about jobs growth. How will all this happen, you might wonder? Why, by opening up more public sector data, of course.

Here's a quick rundown of what The Register understands taxpayers should expect to hear from Osborne at lunchtime today.

Code, boy, as if your life depended on it the Met Office

Investment in medical research and in digital technology is incoming and, as Prime Minister David Cameron made clear earlier this month, the government is placing large bets on Silicon Roundabout, which means Downing Street eventually wants to see East London produce a Skype or even an Apple.

What this appears to boil down to is a startup developing apps that make use of those lovely datasets that Osborne is about to set "free".

Who knows, the Silicon Roundabout could yet give birth to a company that Microsoft might eventually want to buy. Or, more ambitiously, the very same "tech hub" could debut a fondleslab powerhouse of which none other than Steve Jobs RIP would be envious.

Data from the Met Office and the Land Registry, it's hoped, will lead the way.

In essence, some of our data is being offloaded to the private sector to help boost the frankly dire economy. Osborne's mantra actually appears to be: "There's an app for that".

It might be argued that the chancellor is being deadly strategic with his plans. Medical research could be improved via this method, courtesy of what the Cabinet Office is describing as a "world-first data service".

There are also plans to improve business logistics and commuting by introducing realtime monitoring of trains and buses on almost every road in the UK.

All well and good, perhaps. But an internet veteran is required to do a lot of the hand-holding with the 600 or so hairdressers, bars and actual startups that now occupy the Silicon Roundabout.

It would seem those same outfits won't be getting their hands on the very grown up healthcare datasets to be released by the government, which we are assured contain "detailed" yet "anonymised information on patients".

For now, Osborne and co wants Tech City - as Whitehall prefers to call it - to concentrate on the weather, house prices and transport to help kickstart the economy. Some of that data will be released under free licence terms, while others will need to be unlocked by developers who first agree to the "conditions" laid out in the Open Government Licence under commercial re-use.

Stay tuned. We'll have more for you later today. ®

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