By Daniel Hunter

More than £8 million of investment will help public bodies release data so that companies can develop new commercial opportunities. The funding runs to 2015 and was announced today (Wednesday) by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude and Business and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock.

The Ministers set out three new complementary measures to open up access to public data, including:

· A new £7.5m Data Strategy Board Breakthrough Fund to which public sector bodies can apply;

· A new £850,000 Open Data Immersion Programme to which companies can apply; and

· Upgrades to the format in which Ordnance Survey data can be downloaded to make it easier, more accurate and more flexible for companies, government, charities and individuals to use.

The announcement coincides with publication by the Cabinet Office of the first quarterly Written Ministerial Statement showing how departments are complying with their obligations for releasing public data, as set out in two letters from the Prime Minister, the Open Data White Paper and their own Public Data Strategies.

The new Breakthrough Fund will help government departments, agencies and local authorities with necessary funding to release data where there are short -term technical barriers.

The Open Data Immersion Programme will provide support to companies looking to reuse data to develop ideas for new products and services. It will comprise of a series of different themed events and competitions run by the Open Data Institute to encourage SMEs and start-ups to work with data owners to better understand the business opportunities different data sets provide.

Competition winners will be eligible to take their concepts into early product development with a £20,000 to £25,000 investment. More details will be announced in the new year.

The Data Strategy Board, the independent advisory Board established to create maximum value from public data, advised the government on the shape of the package to create maximum value from public data.

Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said:

“This new funding will help us to exploit the power of open data to fuel social and economic growth. It will free up more data for commercial exploitation and help drive innovation in public services.

“But transparency is also about making government better by sharpening accountability. That is why today we are also publishing information showing how departments are meeting their own demanding open data obligations.

“ We are at the start of this process and it has never been done before. There is still some way to go to meet all our obligations, but now we have a benchmark against which progress can be measured. This will act as a spur to further data releases, of higher quality and will help embed transparency in the private sector."

Matthew Hancock, Business Minister and sponsor of the Data Strategy Board, said:

“The value and scope for open data is extremely significant. Open data can improve public services, generate new revenue streams for companies and help to stimulate economic growth. That’s why we are backing it through these new investments.

“We want to help enable everyone to benefit from open data — whether it’s taxpayers, businesses, the public sector or individuals.”

Stephan Shakespeare, Chair of the Data Strategy Board, said:

"The combined stimulus package contains new measures aimed at opening up access to public data to stimulate economic growth and to develop more efficient and transparent public services."

The Data Strategy Board will work closely with the Public Data Group (PDG) of Trading Funds when considering data owned by one of the members. An example of this relationship is the announcement of an upgrade to Ordnance Survey (OS) Open Data products, building on previous open data releases.

The upgrade will enable people to create and customise different maps thanks to upgrades to OS OpenData, the online portal from Ordnance Survey providing free and unrestricted access to a large range of mapping datasets.

This will make OS OpenData products easier, more accurate and more flexible to use and will enable users to create and customise different maps as well as more options to display their data.

All of the measures announced are expected to be in place by early April 2013.

The Written Ministerial Statement published today from the Cabinet Office shows that over a third of government departments, including their arms-length bodies, have met or are on track to meet all their open data commitments instigated since May 2010.

More than half have met their obligations set out in letters from the Prime Minister in May 2010 and July 2011, and two-thirds of departments have met or are on target to meet their departmental commitments set out in their Open Data Strategies.

The average openness score for all departments is 52%, based on the percentage of the datasets published by each department and its arms-length bodies that achieve ‘Three Stars’ and above against the Five Star Rating for Open Data set out in the Open Data White Paper.

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