Working to make government more effective

Analysis paper

The benefits of transparency: Why being more open is good for government

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer should commit to a more transparent approach to government if they win the next general election.

A man walking past the parliament/Whitehall road sign

2024 is an opportunity to reset the government’s approach to transparency – which has appeared to waver in recent years. Rejected Freedom of Information requests are increasing, the UK fell from 3rd – in 2014 – to 24th place in the OECD’s most recent open data rankings, and negative headlines around partygate, PPE procurement and ministers’ use of WhatsApp has created the perception of a government more inclined to cover up than open up.

The report draws on seven case studies – including Transport for London’s open data, government procurement contracts and MPs’ expenses – to assess the benefits and drawbacks of greater transparency in government. While increased transparency can raise difficult questions for government and create work for officials, the report concludes that it can also deliver important benefits that ministers and senior officials should value.

To make the most of these opportunities, it recommends that:

  • Government departments should better integrate transparency into their day-to-day work.  
  • Ministers should sustain their focus on transparency over the long term.  
  • Departments should work with users to improve the quality of transparency outputs.
  • Civil servants should learn lessons on transparency from outside Whitehall, including from local authorities and foreign governments.
  • Departments should ensure civil servants have the skills to be able to take a more transparent approach.
  • Permanent secretaries should be held accountable for their department’s performance on transparency.

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