Cross Cutting Review of the Knowledge Economy Review of government information

Final Report - Introduction

A Review of Government Information was carried out during the Government's Spending Review 2000 as part of the Cross-Cutting Review of the Knowledge Economy, co-chaired by Andrew Smith, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Patricia Hewitt, DTI Minister for Small Businesses and e-Commerce. It was concerned particularly with the availability of information subject to Crown copyright for reproduction and reuse by the information industry.

The new Freedom of Information Act will provide a general right of access to government information, other than information which is exempt because, eg it is the subject of judicial proceedings, or is personal or commercial information supplied to government in confidence, etc. (Any reference to the Freedom of Information Bill in this report can be read now as a reference to the Act.) The general right of access is additional to information which a public authority publishes, or intends to make available to the public. There is also a requirement under the Act for each authority to agree a "scheme for publication" with the Information Commissioner and to publish information in accordance with this scheme. In preparing publication schemes under the Act, government departments and other bodies which have Crown status may be able to draw on work on preparing Information Asset Registers setting out the classes of information they hold for publication on the internet.

Material produced by Government qualifies for Crown copyright protection under an earlier Act, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. While this report from the Review of Government Information touches on initial publication of information, the key issue for the review was the licensing of the reproduction and reuse of Crown copyright material. The scope of this review did not extend to other forms of intellectual property.

New plans to boost the knowledge economy by improving the way government information can be acquired and reused by publishing and internet businesses were announced by Ms Hewitt on 6 September. (A copy of the announcement is attached at Appendix A.) This report contains material considered by the Chief Secretary and the e-Minister before the announcement, including a full list of the recommendations which were summarised in the announcement.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has asked that each relevant government trading fund prepare an action plan setting out where they are now, and how they propose to open access to their information further using the principles for improving its pricing and dissemination set out in the report. The move by departments and agencies (other than trading funds) to a policy of marginal cost pricing for the licensing of basic "raw" data will come into effect from 1 April 2001, the start of the period covered by the Spending Review 2000. HMSO are working to finalise the draft of the new on-line licence (a copy of the current working draft is at Appendix F) and will shortly be elaborating on the proposals set out in this report for their future role as the regulatory body for government content as part of continuing consultation with the information industry.

HM Treasury
December 2000

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