Cameron promises new era in open government

The UK's coalition government has launched an online 'transparency' database, as it publishes business plans for all major spending departments over the next four years.

The moves were outlined in a statement to MPs.

The new departmental business plans offer financial information, and well as structural reform plans and details of departmental priorities.

Users can access a range of information in the new searchable database, including details of departmental structures and salaries, as well as ministerial meetings and hospitality.

According to a press release from the Cabinet Office, the move will "bring about a power shift in favour of increased Government accountability directly to the public".

Launching the new business plans today, Prime Minister David Cameron said:

"Instead of bureaucratic accountability to the government machine, these Business Plans bring in a new system of democratic accountability - accountability to the people. So reform will be driven not by the short-term political calculations of the government, but by the consistent, long-term pressure of what people want and choose in their public service."

Oddly, though, neither transparency nor the right of the people to know seemed to be much in evidence when the government declined to clarify some of the information in Sir Philip Green's report on government spending, published last month.

Sir Philip slammed government departments for a failure to agree common specifications for their IT hardware, alleging that one department paid just £353 for a laptop, while another paid £2,000.

The report also highlighted alleged disparities in the cost of printer cartridges, claiming that one department spent £86 on printer cartridges, while another paid £398.

IT magazine PC Pro submitted a Freedom of Information request for precise specifications of the hardware concerned, in order to make sure Sir Philip had indeed been comparing like with like.

And seemingly, in spite of its new-found eagerness to tell all, the government refused, telling the magazine:

"Disclosure of the printer cartridge and laptop information would undermine current negotiations with our supplier to standardise all units onto a single specification and price".

Which is, of course, complete nonsense.

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