The release this morning of data detailing every Whitehall payment above £25,000 is a step towards the culture of public transparency that the previous Government intended to create when it passed the Freedom of Information Act a decade ago.
Rather than waiting for requests under the FOI regime, the coalition Government has committed to releasing this basic spending information proactively, in a format that allows scrutiny by anyone with the necessary time, software and skills.
This morning’s data release will be repeated each month, and from January, local government bodies will have to release similar datasets accounting for all transactions above £500.
Some of the frustrations with analysing public data to which journalists have become accustomed were absent. There were no files released as locked PDF documents that are difficult to import into database software, for example.
While each department’s monthly spending was released as a separate spreadsheet document, these were formatted in a consistent structure across departments, thanks to detailed Treasury guidance on how to release the data.
Nevertheless, analysing the data still posed significant technical challenges.