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London's Lambeth council vows: We'll share ALL the data we have

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Lambeth council has announced plans to publish all the information it holds online for residents to use.

The local authority said it intends to go one step further than simply publishing spending above £500, as all councils in England and Wales have been asked to do by central government, and will release information such as all spending and performance data, unit costs within council services and location information.

Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth council, told Government Computing that the move was part of the local authority's co-operative council plans, which aim to "equalise" the relationship between a local authority and its residents.

"What we're trying to do is make services more directly accountable to residents, so they can influence and scrutinise them and propose changes on how they're run so that we can improve and serve residents' needs better," he said.

"To do all of that, and to create a closer relationship between users and providers of services, they need access to the data that we've got, so the idea is that we're going to make everything available."

Reed explained that this excludes any confidential information. "It covers anything that we're legally able to release. So that excludes private information about people's council tax records or payments or whatever, but anything legal and we'll publish the whole lot, which is beyond what any other council has done so far," he said.

The council leader acknowledged that the initiative will not happen overnight, and said he expects there to be challenges due to the large volume of data it holds. To help with this issue the authority has been asking its residents what information they want and what format the information should be published in.

Reed said: "So it's not just a matter of getting it out, it's about getting it out in a way that people can use it. We'll somewhat react to demand on this. We want people to tell us what they need first as a priority and what they want to use it for, so that we can respond to that. Other than that, it's going to be a case of churning our way through the council [data]."

The move by Lambeth is in contrast to Nottingham council, which has been flagged up by the Department for Communities and Local Government for not publishing expenditure over £500. Nottingham has said that it believes doing so would be confusing and unhelpful for citizens.

Reed believes that it should be up to individual councils to be accountable to their local electorate, but added: "The more that councils innovate, the more demand there will be from residents in other areas for their councils to do the same. I think if there's pressure from that direction, that's good."

Lambeth anticipates that the benefits of publishing all its information will include a reduction in the amount of time spent on responding to freedom of information requests, and residents coming up with more efficient ways of providing council services.

"If they're [residents] looking at the unit costs for a particular service and they think, 'Well that looks very high,' and they know of another organisation which could provide a service at a lower cost, then they can come back to the council and say, 'Look, why aren't you doing it that way?' We can make savings like that," said Reed.

He believes that the release of information will lead to the creation of online apps, or interactive features – something which happened at the council's recent 'Made in Lambeth' event. The event gave local residents and developers a chance to use data held on the council's site to create applications. This included the creation of an interactive map of council services and places of interest.

"All of that was done for us by residents just accessing the data that we made available. It cost nothing, but it's of real benefit to residents," said Reed.

He said he can't predict exactly where the initiative will take the council, but he is confident it will lead to great things.

"Where it will go, I don't know and that's the great thing. That's the point, it's impossible to predict. But I would expect to see some significant changes led by residents as a result of this," added Reed.

This article was originally published at Guardian Professional. Join the Guardian Public Leaders Network to receive regular emails on the issues at the top of the professional agenda.

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