In February 2017 we wrote to each of the 5 candidates for the post of West Midlands mayor requesting their views by 1st March on open data, which we said we would share at our event Open Wide: Open Data Day 2017 in the West Midlands; we asked them to answer 3 specific questions:

  1. How will you ensure WMCA data is open and free to access where not personal or commercially sensitive?
  1. What personal leadership will you commit to open data and transparency issues?
  1. How will you target and monitor release of data and adoption of open standards across services and agencies?

By the deadline we had received responses from 4 of the candidates as published below in the order of receipt.   James Burn, Green Party, Beverley Nielsen, Lib Dem, Pete Durnell, UKIP and Andy Street, Conservative.  Sion Simon, Labour has now replied and his contribution is added below.

James Burn’s response:

As candidate for the Green Party I am trying not only to campaign for new policies, but for a new way of doing politics in general.

For too long politicians have been seen to do things to people, rather than with them; to exercise power over people rather than with them; to make decisions behind closed doors rather than in dialogue.

So, I am very keen to form policy in dialogue with the experts in each field rather than assuming that I am my team know better than the experts do!

As a general principle, the Green Party is (and has long been) committed to evidence-based policy making. The availability of the right data and high quality data is obviously crucial to that process.

As you say, where data is not personal or commercially sensitive, it should be open and free to access. We would want to see the results of research using such data to be publicly available and in the public interest. In the case of individually identifiable data, we would make sure that all individuals have a choice about the use of their personal data. In making this choice they should be given clear information about the purpose and expected benefits of the research, which data will be used, to whom the data will be made available in the course of the research and in the publication of results, and the safeguards to be put in place for data protection.

As you will know, we have made openness and transparency in general one of our key campaigning planks for the WMCA mayoral election. We have been vocal critics of the “behind closed doors” nature of the board and devolution deals, the exclusion of unions, voluntary groups, opposition politicians and the community.

We want to see data better used to enable the public sector to work more efficiently and effectively – for example around predicting demand for housing, travel planning, energy consumption, water use and waste volumes. This requires data to be released across more services and agencies.

This is our general position, but in terms of your questions, I’d like to know from you as experts what you would like to see the mayor commit to in terms of ensuring WMCA data is free and open to access and how the mayor should target and monitor the release of data and the adoption of open standards across services and agencies? I would think it likely, given our shared interest in openness and transparency, that we will likely be happy to adopt the positions you would like to see and can help push the wider policy debate to reflect more of that position.

Best wishes,

James Burn

Beverley Nielsen’s response:

At the heart of Liberal Democrats values are transparency and openness.

Although the actual delegated powers of the Mayor will be limited: the leaders and officers within the local authorities comprising WMCA are not yet accountable to me, I will use all the existing scrutiny processes to ensure that, within the constraints you have already identified, all decisions made by myself and the WMCA will be open to scrutiny.

One of the strengths of an effective leader is to continually learn. Therefore it is in my interests to ensure the process of scrutiny and examination is used for constructive purposes: to make us better able to represent the region and gain trust from investors and stakeholders.

If current methods of releasing data are not meeting the needs of our electorate I will ensure that we develop the resources required to create a dialogue with the communities we serve. We cannot represent without being accountable and unless we adequately share performance data, our dialogue will remain one sided.

I would like to extend an opportunity to your members to help me better understand how what you promote can facilitate better democracy, where citizens are engaged, better understand and the voice of some cannot be louder than the voice of others.

I really appreciate your interest and welcome further dialogue if you so require.

Beverley NielsenLib Dem Candidate for West Midlands Metro Mayor

Pete Durnell’s response:

As indicated in my previous mail, I strongly support open data and would be very happy to endorse the promotion of its use for the benefit of organisations in the region (and beyond), and the West Midlands public.

With regard to your specific questions:

  1. How will you ensure WMCA data is open and free to access where not personal or commercially sensitive?

Quite simply I will do everything I can to ensure that not just WMCA data, but the way that it operates on a daily basis is open to public scrutiny at all times.

I will pressure for (unless there are very specific reasons why they should not be) all meetings to be streamed live via web cam, and for the video to be stored to allow future reference.  I have a background in IT and will use my knowledge and experience to facilitate open and free access to all non personal / commercially sensitive data through a variety of internet based applications and in-house procedures.

  1. What personal leadership will you commit to open data and transparency issues?

Openness and transparency are central themes of my mayoral campaign, and would continue to be so if elected.  I would use the position of mayor to publicise and promote openness with regard to policies, actions, and the benefits of open data on a daily basis, via every mechanism available.

  1. How will you target and monitor release of data and adoption of open standards across services and agencies?

I will work to make the WMCA adopt open data standards throughout, and to make it an example that other services and agencies can follow.  I would set up an annual internal audit process to ensure all related procedures are being adopted and followed.

Kind regards,

Pete

Pete Durnell
UKIP WMCA Metro Mayor Candidate 2017

Andy Street’s response:

Open Data is vitally important part of my Plan, promoting transparency and driving the innovation we need to create a strong economy, which can in turn support a flourishing society.

My approach to Open Data, if I am elected Mayor will be:

  • A Clear Commitment to Transparency: During my campaign so far, I have tried to be as open as possible, holding open “Ask Andy” meetings where anyone can come and ask me anything they want to know. If elected, I want to continue this approach.
  • The Performance-Based Mayor: We need the right indicators and the right data to measure the progress the West Midlands is making. I have committed that my salary as Mayor should be performance-related, based on how well my Renewal Plan for the West Midlands is going. I want to have real ‘skin in the game’. The people of the region should be able to see this progress, and we need to create the dashboards or measurement mechanisms which are most appropriate to achieve this.
  • Appoint the Right People: As I learnt during my time at John Lewis, the most important leadership skill is selecting the right people to get things done. Any activities which I am proposing as Mayor will have an individual who has a clear responsibility for delivering. I will be personally keeping a track of the progress we make in Open Data, just as I will with each of my other policy priorities.
  • Secure the Data: One of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century is keeping our personal data secure. Government, businesses and individuals face this challenge together. As Mayor, any data which is open or shared will go through rigorous checks to make sure that nothing which is personally or commercially sensitive is shared inappropriately.
  • Listening to What Data People Want: As Mayor, I will involve both the holders of public sector data, and the users of that data, whether they are researchers, entrepreneurs or journalists. We need to be user-centric in our approach, and work collaboratively to make sure we deliver the most useful data first.
  • Improve the Data: The public sector needs to work together to improve its own data, opening up new sources, including real-time data. We need to explore using data from other sources too, working with the private sector. For example, why shouldn’t housebuilding companies or mortgage lenders give us a more accurate real-time data on progress towards our housing goals?
  • Making the Data Available and Accessible: Of course public data needs to be shared online, but we need to work harder to make it accessible. Where can we find opportunities to make data searchable, machine readable or accessible through APIs? We need common standards to make sure that data is comparable with other parts of the country and across the local authorities in the West Midlands region. These are the challenges which the next Mayor must tackle.
  • Make Sure We Use the Data: I want to unleash a new innovation revolution in the West Midlands. We need to attract the best technology talent to tackle our most pressing public sector problems. We also need to foster start-up businesses which are looking to use public sector data to create value for their customers. Our young people need the digital and statistical skills to understand data and use it effectively to be successful in the twenty-first century.

My thanks for your collective efforts in promoting this important agenda. I look forward to working together if I am elected Mayor on May 4th.

Yours faithfully,

Andy Street, Conservative Mayoral Candidate for the West Midlands

Sion Simon’s response:

  1. How will you ensure WMCA data is open and free to access where not personal or commercially sensitive?

As Mayor, I will develop a system to allow maximum public scrutiny of WMCA decisions – creating an open data portal for WMCA data, and the data of other public bodies in the West Midlands, to pre-empt Freedom of Information requests. And ensuring that all stakeholders – including trade unions and the voluntary sector – have access to relevant information in sufficient time to properly input into WMCA decision-making. We would assist this by having all WMCA communication be written in plain English.

  1. What personal leadership will you commit to open data and transparency issues?

I would lead a mayoral office that will always be open and transparent about its costs and activities. At the end of my first term in office, I would have these activities subject to an independent cost-benefit audit, with all inputs to this audit made publicly available.    

  1. How will you target and monitor release of data and adoption of open standards across services and agencies?

We should aim for a citizen-centric and smart West Midlands. We’ll learn from places like Bristol, to create open data portals which support the creation of apps and services that respond to needs identified in West Midlands. We should target making more data available, and having more apps developed as a consequence of open data, than anywhere else in the UK.

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