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Joined-Up Government Suffers Setback

eGov monitor Weekly

1 April 2003

Plans to give government departments sweeping powers to share personal data on citizens have been put on hold, after an official consultation attracted responses from just three members of the British public.

Proposals issued by the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) last April suggested that better sharing of information between public bodies would assist the delivery of 'joined-up', customer-focused services. The PIU put forward plans for 19 projects highlighting the potential benefits of improved data-sharing, including case-by-case linking of records held by the Department for Work and Pensions to reduce benefit fraud.

However the outcome of the PIU's three-month consultation exercise, which has now been published by the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD), has forced the government to rethink its plans. Only 60 responses were received in total, with over half of these coming from the public sector. Some 11 private companies, two academics and a handful of professional bodies also submitted comments. Input from citizens was consigned to only three individuals.

The LCD reported: "The very small scale of response on what is such an important issue, which directly impacts on everyone in society, is disappointing". The small number of individuals responding made it "impossible" to gauge informed public reaction to the proposals, it added. Furthermore, the LCD highlighted that no significant new information or lines of argument has been exposed by the consultation. Overall the conclusion was drawn that the results could not "confidently be used as a firm basis for taking forward policy". The Government now plans to hold a fresh round of consultation, which will take place alongside a series of public meetings.

One important issue to emerge from the consultation responses was the lack of clear guidance for local authorities on the legal framework for data sharing. The LCD has been charged with producing guidelines to clarify the legal position as a matter of priority.

Read the full analysis of the consultation responses

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