Pottering Around Council Websites – via Google

Over the last few weeks, I’ve started pondering what sort of data sets might be “almost available” on local council websites, along with the extent to which we might be able to use these datasets to support transparency goals, such as generating signals about the extent of cuts to local council services, or developing data driven local services, such as pub finders;-)

So for example, by chance I came across a page on my local council website detailing property the council is selling off:

IW property for sale

Surplus to requirements, eh? I wonder how much property has gone up for sale or lease across other councils over the last year or so, and what sorts of services they used to house along with whether those services have been replaced with alternatives, in any meaningful sense?

As a start for ten, here’s a search to try out on your favourite web search engine:

"property for sale" intitle:council site:gov.uk

This won’t search across all council websites, but it’ll have a stab at ones that are hosted on the .gov.uk domain. For more thoughts on searching council websites by proxy, see Aggregated Local Government Verticals Based on LocalGov Service IDs.

And here’s an example of the sort of local news story that might result… @thisissurrey Surrey County Council makes £68million by selling off land and public buildings

Another area of the IW council website that was new to me was the list of public license registers:

Public registers

So for example, I can look up establishments with a more than a few gaming machines:

gaming machinbes

No lat/long data, but there are addresses and postcodes, we means weCanHaz maps easily enough…

public register licenses site:gov.uk intitle:council

Looking for reputable suppliers is something I often turn to the parish magazine for (it’s a proxy for trust…), as well as the local Chamber of Commerce members list. But it seems as if this is also something the trading standards aspect of the council may be able to help out on… in th island’s case, there’s a Buy With Confidence register, for example.

trading standards

“Trader register” seems to be the phrase to go for?

trader register site:gov.uk intitle:council

For food establishments, whilst the IW council participates in the Food Standards Agency’s ‘Food Hygiene Rating Scheme’, it doesn’t seem to pull any of that data into an access point on the council website? (I think my scraper of the FSA site may have rotted too? Food Standards Agency scraper.)

As well as the statutory disclosure of major spend items, the council also publishes details of local contracts – again, if we’re looking to track evidence about cuts, a log of contracts that don’t get renewed might be interesting over an extended period?

IW contracts

Whilst the council webpages don’t make it easy for you to see all the extant contracts,
another scraper can help….

For the holidaymakers, in part, the council produces a table of Beach Water Quality measures, though not on a map as far as I can tell (which reminds me of an old, old map hack mashup….!)? I suspect some of the beaches may be designated public places (no booze…), but at the last time of looking I couldn’t find any data identifying the extent of such areas on the island, let alone any shapefiles of the same…? I’m not sure if there’s data around showing when and which part of the beaches allow dogs on them, either?

"designated public places" site:gov.uk intitle:council

In terms of advertising local events, the council maintain a major events calendar, although I couldn’t spot an iCal feed so I can’t easily subscribe to it in my own calendar…

council what's on

If you need to find somewhere to park, the council does publish lists of car parks – sort of:

car park locations - sort of

Ooh – my mistake – they do a Google Map too [on which I also spy a KML link]…

car park map..

As well as accommodation for holiday folk, the island has its fair share of care homes. Quality inspections, it seems, aren’t a council thing – data for that is handled by the Care Quality Commission.

The Isle of Wight Council doesn’t publish FOI disclosure logs as a matter of course, though some other councils do, along with responses:

(foi OR freedom information) +"disclosure log" site:gov.uk intitle:council

And why are FOI disclosure logs interesting? Well for one thing, they allow us to take the FOI Route to Real (Fake) Open Data.

Okay – that’s enough for now, methinks…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...