Government plan to be more transparent could lead to 'more scrutiny'

The Government's pledge to be more open and transparent will lead to greater scrutiny, a corporate affairs boss has warned.

Greater transparency: Westminster
Greater transparency: Westminster

The Prime Minister has today launched a radical plan to open up Government data to the public.

In a letter sent to all government departments, David Cameron has set out ambitious plans to open up data and set challenging deadlines to public bodies for the publication of information on topics including crime, hospital infections and government spending.

'Being seen to be open and transparent is as key to government as it is to business,' said Fleishman-Hillard head of corporate comms and issues management David Hart. 'The new Government has acted quickly to show that it will fulfill its promises to open up Government information to the public. However, with greater transparency comes greater scrutiny, so journalists and the public alike will be able to hold ministers to account as never before.'

The letter from Cameron also announced that MySociety founder Tom Steinberg will advise ministers on the development and implementation of the transparency agenda.

Whitehall departments will begin to release new data to the public this week, starting with senior civil service salaries, MRSA infection data on a hospital-by-hospital basis and the Treasury's COINS database of public spending.

Today's national newspaper headlines have focused on the list of civil servants' salaries. The Daily Mail ran with the headline: 'Named: 172 civil servants paid more than PM', while The Guardian used the heading: '£275,000 a year - UK's highest paid civil servant revealed.'

The announcement follows several negative stories involving MPs and expenses over the past few days. Chief secretary David Laws resigned last week after it emerged he had paid £40,000 in rent to his partner.

Former government PR adviser Danny Alexander, who was appointed to replace Laws, also fell under the spotlight after it was claimed he had avoided paying capital gains tax on the sale of his second home in 2007.

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Peter Bingle said: 'I have no problem with the salaries of senior public servants being made public. I do have a problem with any attempt to suggest that they are not worth what they are paid. Openness per se is a good thing. Using it to undermine confidence in senior public sector figures, who could earn much more in the private sector, is not.'

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude will chair a new Transparency Board, including experts such as Steinberg, to drive the agenda across government.

The PM spoke about plans to make government more transparent in his first podcast released on Saturday.

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