Osborne Plans Open Data and Connected Cities

George Osborne’s Autumn statement launched an open data project, and promised connected cities

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised to stimulate jobs by opening public data up, and putting £100 million into a scheme for “connected cities”.

George Osborne’s Autumn statement failed to deliver the hoped for new funding on broadband, amid arguments about whether the Government’s austerity measurements were working – as Osborne claimed – or had “strangled” the recovery, as Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls asserted. But two proposals could bring some consolation to the tech sector.

Open data and connected cities

The Open Data Institute, to be set up near London’s Tech city (“Silicon Roundabout”) will have up to £10 million in funding to help find opportunities in sharing  public sector datasets. Led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of Southampton University, it will “help business exploit the opportunities created by release of public data”, according to Osborne’s Autumn statement.

“Making more public sector information available will help catalyse new markets and innovative products and services as well as improving standards and transparency in public services,” said the statement. “The Government will open up access to core public datasets on transport, weather and health, including giving individuals access to their online GP records by the end of this Parliament.”

The Institute, which will also have matched funding from industry is a strange echo of the £30 million Institute for Web Science, set up by the previous government, with very similar goals, and also led by Shadbolt and Berners-Lee. The Labour-backed Institute was unceremoniously cut in May 2010, only two months after it was set up, so the new Institute is creating a sense of deja vu among some observers.

One specific instance of open data was given – from early 2012, the government will consult through the Fares and Ticketing Review, on how to give public access to rail fares data, so passengers have a better chance to find the best priced ticket.

Connected cities chosen by a competition

People hoping for more money for broadband, beyond the £530 million already committed by the Government, will be disappointed. The Infrastructure Plan – which plans to build essential services using investment from pension funds – is concentrating on roads, railways and power stations.

However, the statement did promise £100 million for ten “connected cities” which will have broadband at 80-100Mbps, and fast mobile networks. These will include London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast – the other six are to be chosen by a competition and announced in the 2012 budget.

“See what countries like China or Brazil are building, and you’ll also see why we risk falling behind the rest of the world,” said Osborne. “We will help bring world-leading, superfast broadband and Wi-Fi connections to ten of them – including the capitals of all four nations.”

The money is expected to go towards filling in “not-spots” within those cities, leaving questions over how the government will meat its promise to deliver 25Mbps broadband to the majority of UK homes by 2015. The main way to achieve that is to get fibre to rural areas – which the governments £530 million is aimed at.