Prime Minister David Cameron has demanded that businesses adopt open data practices in a bid to remove a ‘cloak of secrecy’ around company ownership.
Speaking at the Open Government Partnership Annual Summit in London, Cameron vowed to extend plans announced at the G8 summit this summer around the creation of a central register of company beneficial ownership. Under the new plans, hundreds of thousands of businesses will be required to provide details of their ultimate owners, as the government seeks to tackle corruption and tax evasion.
If legislation is passed to support the new rules it is likely that companies will face greater requirements around compliance for reporting financial information.
“For too long a small minority have hidden their business dealings behind a complicated web of shell companies, and this cloak of secrecy has fuelled all manner of questionable practices, and down-right illegality,” he said.
“We need to know who really owns and controls our companies, not just who owns them legally, but who really benefits financially from their existence.”
By creating greater transparency among privately owned businesses, the government hopes to build on public sector initiatives around open data.
In the year since the UK has been the lead on the Open Government Partnership, the government has opened up thousands of documents for public consumption through its data.gov.uk website, and invested £10 million in the launch of the Open Data Institute.
“You can now map the crime on your streets, see the standards in our schools, and the performance in your hospitals,” said Cameron. “You can see the businesses and people that the government meets with, the names and roles of senior civil servants, not to mention the pay of most of our top officials.”
The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. It was launched in 2011, with the UK one of the eight founding members, and has since been joined by another 53 member countries.
Also announced at the summit were plans to launch a number of working groups on open data, with the aim of challenging and supporting government’s in their aims to become more open.
Cabinet Office minister and lead co-chair of OGP Francis Maude highlighted the UK’s progress towards enabling an open government through open data practices, but warned that all governments will face challenges in opening their data to the public.
“For us in government [becoming more open] will be uncomfortable, because transparency takes us out of the comfort zone,” Maude said at the summit.
“It is not a warm and fuzzy add-on, it is not a feel-good accessory, it is hard-edged, tough, rigorous, and we want it hardwired into international governments and woven into everything that we do."
However he added: “If we succeed we will have created historic change that is unstoppable and irreversible.”