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New OGP IRM Report for U.K. Makes Recommendations to Strengthen Open Government Agenda

The United Kingdom has been a global leader on open government and anti-corruption efforts. Since co-founding the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011 and hosting the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit, it has paved the way in areas such as transparency in the beneficial ownership of companies and in the extractive sector. As a member of OGP, the U.K. has co-created and implemented reforms on these issues through four open government action plans.  

However, the Independent Reporting Mechanism’s (IRM) latest report found that the U.K. Government fell short of maintaining a constant dialogue with civil society organisations   during the development of the latest action plan (2019-21), which, compared to the previous action plans, contains less ambitious commitments for opening government. 

The IRM report, which assesses the design of the U.K.’s current OGP action plan, recommends that the U.K. should ensure effective public oversight over contracts and public procurement related to COVID-19 response and recovery. For accountability of COVID-19 funds, the U.K. could commit to publishing data using the Open Contracting Data Standard and in a timely manner. In addition, the report suggests that the U.K. investigate and sanction possible cases of abuse in COVID-19-related procurement and contracts. 

Another recommendation is for the U.K. to amend and strengthen the U.K. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ensure timely responses to information requests, and cover private entities that provide public services. Currently, a significant number of public bodies delay FOIA requests without penalty and the Information Commissioner’s Office has recommended strengthening the FOIA legislation to outsourced public services. 

The IRM report also makes recommendations to strengthen the co-creation process between government and civil society. Here, the IRM suggests increased ministerial participation for greater visibility of the OGP process, especially given that the latest action plan’s co-creation process lacked high-level government involvement. The U.K. government could also improve communication with civil society and maintain an iterative dialogue on key policy areas considered for open government reforms. The report finds there was a significant delay between the consultations with civil society and the publication of the final plan, without any communication from the government side on the reasons for the delay. In addition, the government did not provide reasoning behind how certain stakeholder priorities were considered when developing the plan. This contravenes the OGP co-creation requirements. 

According to the report there were some mitigating factors. For example, the uncertainties and redeployment of civil servants in preparation for the U.K.’s departure from the European Union ultimately delayed the launch of the U.K.’s fourth action plan (2019-2021) to one year later than originally scheduled. The COVID-19 pandemic also forced the government to shift its focus to urgent safety and health matters. As the UK begins to work on its next OGP action plan the government has an opportunity to work closely with civil society to make ambitious commitments that could position the country as a champion of open government in the post-pandemic world.

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