Meeting Cambridge County Council

July 9, 2010

I met a couple of people from the finance team at Cambridge City Council (CCC) this week.

This meeting makes me want to beam a message out to all councils saying:

if you publish your data in machine readable form, you pretty much don’t have to worry about presenting this data — there is already a community who will do it all for you for FREE. Everyone wins!

The outcomes of the meeting where:

  • They’re going to give me a copy of their accounts in a spreadsheet.
  • They refused to give me an export of their Oracle “Balance Sheet” report.
  • All council budgets are published in excel
  • They’re going to report their £500 + spending before the Jan 2010.
  • When they publish they’re going to make sure their data meets the open data standards defined by Chris Taggart.

Here is some more detail about the meeting for those interested.

Background:
I’ve been asking to meet with the finance team in CCC for months. The first thing I did was write to them to request a meeting to explain ‘where does my money go?‘ and get some idea of their finance data. I didn’t hear back so I asked again. Nothing back. So I sent a freedom of information request for the database type, schema and training notes all of which I duly received.

Then I asked for the data, and one of the councilors at CCC saw my request on What Do They Know? and helped me by giving the exact tables that I needed and he also suggested a report to ask for. I asked for all of this and added that I would like to meet as I appreciate it is a big ask.

I didn’t get the data but I did get a meeting.

The meeting:
I explained the ‘where does my money go?‘ project.

They explained about their current work reporting all spending above £500.

They said that the vast majority of their spending data is below £500, but even so this still is more data than they have every shared before.

They plan to share their data before the Jan 2010 deadline and they are concerned about if the public will be able to interpret it and also how to physically host this large amount data.

I pointed out the open data standards from Chris Taggart and co and how there is a community of people eager to do the work of communicating the spending to the public, and making the data useable will allow them to do this.

They said they would send me a copy of their online accounts in a spreadsheet as this is what they have to convert into a pdf before they put it on their website.

They refused to give any exports of their reports of which there are a number describing in the training notes.

I offered our support for publishing their spending data and they agreed that keeping the lines of communication open with OKFN would be useful to us
both.

They were keen to look up Chris’ blog post and the open data standards and said they would make sure they published their data following those guidelines.

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