Some more facts about SpotlightOnSpend for FullFact.org

Full Fact is a website that aims to find the true facts behind the spin and obfuscation of public debate. According to them:

Full Fact is an independent fact-checking organisation. We remove the spin from political statements and make it easier to see the facts and context behind the claims made by the key players in British political debate.

Our main work is to:

  • Analyse, challenge and expose misleading claims
  • Enable people to verify or rebut claims and campaign for improved standards

So I was interested to see how they’d tackle the controversy over Chris Taggart’s criticism of the way in which Spikes Cavell are publishing council spending data on their SpotlightOnSpend website.

Full Fact’s rigorous fact checking technique in this case involved asking a company that had come in for public criticism whether their critics were right. Spikes Cavell’s CEO Luke Spikes duly reported that their critics were misguided, leading Full Fact to come to the only obvious conclusion that his word should be plenty good enough for anyone.

Full Fact concludes:

Whilst Full Fact supports calls for greater access to local government data, bloggers and commentators do need to ensure that the clamour for transparency doesn’t obscure the facts. In this instance, it seems that the ire that has been directed at the SpotlightOnSpend website has been misplaced.

As FullFact hasn’t yet published the comment I submitted to their story outlining some fuller facts, I’ll put it here instead:

Here are some more facts for you to check:

1. The CountCulture blog which originally raised these concerns is written by Chris Taggart. Chris is a long-standing and well-respected open data developer and activist who runs one of the country’s leading open data websites, OpenlyLocal, and formally advises the government on open data policy as a member of the Local Public Data Panel.

2. As if to make the latter point any clearer, Chris is one of the people who actually defines what the government means by “transparency” and “open data”.

3. To my knowledge, no-one on the Local Public Data Panel or in the wider open data community disagrees with Chris on this matter.

4. The government’s Public Sector Transparency board has released a statement saying, “We understand that urgent measures are already taking place to rectify the problems identified by Chris [Taggart]“. The Public Sector Transparency Board is chaired by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and includes world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

5. Spikes Cavell is a company that has never published a single item of open data according to the government’s accepted principles and definitions.

6. To my knowledge, Spikes Cavell has never advocated any policy to increase the amount of open data released by government in the sense that the government is advocating.

7. In the case of Windsor and Maidenhead’s data, Spikes Cavell turned open data into closed data by republishing data that was free in an
unfree way.

8. The other councils for whom Spikes Cavell has published spending data are under the false impression that they have complied with the
government’s request to release their data in an open way. They have not.

9. A full list of the councils that have published their spending data is available on my Armchair Auditor website.

10. Today, this list shows only two councils that are publishing their data in a truly open and transparent way as defined by the government: The Greater London Authority and Windsor and Maidenhead. These are the councils that have both an open licence and machine-readable data.

11. Neither of those two councils are using Spikes Cavell’s Spotlight on Spend to publish their data openly, though as already mentioned above, Spikes Cavell are publishing Windsor and Maidenhead’s data separately in a closed way.

12. Windsor and Maidenhead’s data is available as open data through Armchair Auditor and OpenlyLocal. OpenlyLocal also has open data for
other councils’ spending.

Spikes Cavell has rightly been called on its practice of substituting its own definition of transparency for the one used by the government
and the open data community, thereby muddying the waters about what is expected of councils to bring about a situation in which their
finances can be best scrutinised by the public.

Please get in touch if you have any further facts about this matter to be clarified.

Keep up the good work, Full Fact. Transparency and accountability needs your unique voice.

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4 Responses to Some more facts about SpotlightOnSpend for FullFact.org

  1. Pingback: Adrian Short — Some more facts about SpotlightOnSpend for FullFact.org -Political Fund USA

  2. Pingback: L’opendata dans tous ses états – Juillet II «

  3. FullFact says:

    Hi Adrian,
    We’ve replied to the points you raised over on our original blog post. Briefly, our point was not that the SpotlightOnSpend website in any way fulfilled local government data access obligations, but that it was never the intention of Spikes Cavell to create that. DCLG has asked local authorities to make freely available data pertaining to all expenditure over £500 – the data held on SoS manifestly doesn’t meet that objective, and Luke Spikes is happy to admit as much. So if councils whose data is published on the SoS website think that by using the site they are discharging their duty, as you claim, it is the councils themselves we need to hold to account, not Spikes Cavell, who are running a private service wholly unconnected with the freedom of data drive.
    Hope this clears things up.

  4. Jarna says:

    This all changed a couple of weeks ago – all data on their website is now openly available and a few sites other than those mentioned here have already started using this data. See data.gov.uk for a link to the datasets.

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