A government announcement on ‘transparency’ is the most hilarious thing I read this week [OPINION]

May Transparency Government
Steve Topple

On 14 December, the government made an announcement on its commitment to “accountability and transparency”. But given the Conservatives’ track record in government, I found its statement completely laughable.

Setting new standards

In 2010, then Prime Minister David Cameron said:

Greater transparency across Government is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account…

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The government must set new standards for transparency…

Fast forward to 14 December this year and Chris Skidmore MP, Parliamentary Secretary (Minister for the Constitution), gave an update on this. He noted that:

Since 2010, the government has been at the forefront of opening up data to allow parliament, the public, and the media to hold public bodies to account.

The sunlight of transparency also acts in itself as an important check and balance, and helps ensure the highest standards of public life amongst elected representatives and officials.

And while the UK government reportedly has “the most transparent and wide-ranging open data initiative in the world”, its track record on openness and transparency in some areas leaves a lot to be desired.

Open and transparent?

In August, as The Canary previously reported, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) went to court, trying to stop the publication of an ‘outcome’ report which could expose the failure of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). This is because, the government claims, the report could harm the “commercial interests” of involved companies. Maximus, and previously Atos, carries out the WCA. The Mirror claims the report, which goes back to 2011, “contains monthly performance details from each [WCA] testing centre”.

So far, we don’t know the court’s decision.

Lying?

Also, Skidmore speaks of more “accountability”. But sometimes when the government is held accountable, even the PM tries to bury the truth.

At Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 13 December, Theresa May said [12:13:49] that:

Statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50% since then. It’s this government that is delivering for people on housing.

But as The Canary reported, May:

used inaccurate and ‘misleading’ figures about homelessness. And because the government was ordered not to use these figures by the UK Statistics Authority, May knew that they were not accurate. In other words, she knowingly misled parliament; or lied.

Conflicts of interest?

Skidmore also raised the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest between ministers’ private and public lives. But this has been an issue with government officials and Conservative MPs.

In September, for example, Brexit Minister Steve Baker was caught up in a conflict of interest row after an official donor to the Vote Leave campaign gave him free use of London accommodation valued at £13,000. And Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg has been caught up twice in conflict of interest rows.

Diversity?

Also, part of the government’s “accountability and transparency” vision is “improving the diversity of public appointments”. Skidmore claimed:

In 2013, Government set an aspiration that 50% of new public appointments made each year should go to women. Good progress has been made – 49% new appointments made in 2016-17 went to women.

But aside from gender, as of 31 March 2017, 11.6% [pdf, p3] of civil servants were from an ethnic minority and 9.9% [pdf, p3] were disabled. This is versus the UK population, of which 14% are from an ethnic minority and nearly 20% are disabled. Meanwhile, 48% of Conservative MPs were privately educated, versus 7% of the population.

Blah, blah, blah

All of this is without the small matter of David Davis and the so-called Brexit impact assessments.

The government has made some bold pledges on its accountability and transparency. But, judging by its own track record, I doubt whether it will ever live up to these standards overall.

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