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Jeremy Wright launches consultation on National Data Strategy

The government has launched a consultation to help shape its National Data Strategy and unlock the value of datasets held within Whitehall and across the public sector.

An initial call for evidence is aimed at academics, civil society groups and startups, and is designed to support policymakers charged with defining the parameters of the government’s plans.

The ultimate aim of the strategy is to accelerate the growth of the UK’s economy by inspiring public trust in data sharing and ensuring that all businesses can “effectively operate in [a] data-driven society”.

Speaking at the CogX AI festival in London on Tuesday (12 June), Jeremy Wright – the digital and culture secretary (pictured) – warned that “organisations looking to access or share data can currently face a range of barriers, from trust and cultural concerns to practical and legal obstacles”.

“So the Office for AI – a joint unit between my own department and the business department – along with Innovate UK, has partnered with the Open Data Institute. They are exploring a type of data sharing framework called a data trust – a legal structure that provides independent stewardship of data.”

One of the sectors most likely to benefit from increased data sharing, say government officials, is healthcare. Some estimates put the value of NHS data at more than £10bn, but the government was forced to scrap plans to create a unified database for the health service in 2016 following a backlash over privacy concerns.

By creating data trusts, in which members of the public have some leverage over the way in which their information is shared, the government hopes it will be able to give rise to new British businesses. CityMapper is one high profile example of a company which has grown out of the so-called “open data ecosystem”, but such businesses remain elusive.

The call for evidence focuses on people, the economy and government, as well as fairness and ethics, existing data protection legislation and inclusivity. A wider public consultation will be launched later this year.