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UK taxpayers spunk £8m on lubing civil servants for data release

£25k wad dangled before start-ups to make apps about UK.gov

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Millions of pounds in taxpayers' cash will be spent on encouraging civil servants to reveal more facts and figures about the government's activities to the private sector.

The Cabinet Office has announced two programmes, backed by an £8.35m pot, that Number 10 said “will help public bodies release data so that companies can develop commercial opportunities for that data”.

The first programme, the Data Strategy Breakthrough Fund, will get £7.5m of that pot and is open to public-sector organisations. The fund will help civil servants overcome “short-term technical barriers” in publishing wads of useful to ho-hum factoids online.

Meanwhile, the second scheme, the Open Data Immersion Programme, will receive £850,000 and “support companies looking to reuse data to develop ideas for new products and services".

Start-ups and small private organisations could get between £20,000 and £25,000 to “take their concepts into early products and services", according to the Cabinet Office. More details on this competition are expected in the New Year.

Both programmes are expected to be up and running next year and will last until 2015.

This is all part of Number 10's "Open Data Initiative" to take quantitative information on what the government actually does - from local council duties to healthcare - and publish it in a consistent way that can be analysed and understood by humans and software.

It's hoped this will encourage civic-minded programmers to, say, plot the data as pretty graphs for citizens who are curious about what their taxes are being spent on.

As such, the Open Data Institute was founded in May with its own £10m pot of public money to incubate data-crunching start-ups, help small biz, and to train 25 entrepreneurs, developers, technologists and evangelists on the subjects of, er, open data and data linking.

But the National Audit Office (NAO) and Parliament's Public Accounts Select Committee have since faulted the government for not demonstrating any cost-benefit analysis for its Open Data Initiative.

The NAO found, in some cases, the cost of preparing and polishing the data prior to publication outweighed the usefulness of the information to Blighty's population. ®

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