In Holding Companies to Account – Open Data Consolidation, I noted a couple of different ways in which we could use opendata to consolidate something of what we know about companies that provide services to or on behalf of public bodies, or otherwise receive monies from public services:
1) structural consolidation, in the sense of identifying companies that are part of the same corporate group;
2) financial consolidation, in the sense of identifying spend made to the same company from across different public bodies, and/or spend to different companies from the same corporate group from one or more public bodies.
In respect of the second notion, see also Open Data, Transparency, Fan-In and Fan-Out which describes how we can also start to consolidate connections and payments made between public bodies (also Public Sector Transparency – Do We Need Open Receipts Data as Well as Open Spending Data?).
I’ve previously doodled thoughts on whether there is a need for companies receiving public money to disclose those receipts (eg Spending & Receipts Transparency as a Consequence of Accepting Public Money?) – but whilst they may have no obligation to do so, the availability of open transactions data (and increasingly, open contracts data (eg The Local Government (Transparency) (Descriptions of Information) (England) Order 2014, h/t @owenboswarva) means that we can start to aggregate and publish this information, on their behalf, as part of a corporate watch activity:-)
So here’s a what if… What if there was a way we could set up “open public data reflector” sites that would aggregate data about a particular company or corporate group, aggregate it, and reflect it back? As a start, we could simply flip requirements put onto public bodies (eg publication of spend over £25,000 for large departments or services) to complementary views on the private corporate side (publication of all receipts over £25,000 from large public bodies, publication of summed receipts over £25,000 from local councils (who have a lower spending amount disclosure threshold). Of course, in the latter case, we’d need to aggregate the smaller amounts in order to calculate the sums.) By aggregating contract information, (additional) spend against contracts could also be tracked.
In this respect, I could imagine someone like SpendNetwork setting up a white label site that would allow civil society activists to fire up a ‘corporate watch’ website that reflects back open public data that refers to a particular company (something a little more sophisticated than their current raw data listings). If they made their data a little easier to access, I may be tempted to play with it…
Alongside the open public data reflector, it might be useful to have a “what do they know about you?” reflector that describes the sort of information the company holds about you that could be accessed via a Data Protection Act subject access request. (I’m not sure how we could find that out? Get several people to put requests in, extract the field names/metadata elements and publish those?) Thinks: wouldn’t it be nice if there was a request that could be made of data-controllers that forced them to disclose the fields and descriptive metadata for any data that would inspect when putting together a subject access request response?!;-) A “meta” subject access request, in other words?
PS Examples of outputs relating to aggregated spend with particular companies:
- Centre for Entrepreneurs/Spend Network report: Spend Small – Local Authority Spend Index.
If you know of any more, please let me have a link via the comments.