Ronald Regan famously said: ”The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help”, well it would seem this government is really trying hard to change that.
It’s not often you hear that government offers you something for nothing, but when Companies House says it is to open up all of its data, previously available online for a fee, free of charge, then you have to sit up and take notice.
Making company data available free to everyone will make the UK the first country to establish a truly open register of business information.
It will make it easier and simpler for businesses and members of the public to access, research and scrutinise the activities and ownership of companies and connected individuals. Over last year (2013/14), customers searching the Companies House website spent £8.7 million accessing company information on the register.
The new Companies House free data access service is available in beta mode and makes all of the public data held on companies available free of charge. Free access to the data is available both through a new web service and application program interface (API), enabling consumers, businesses and technology information providers to access real time data updates on companies.
This new service, whilst it has previously been available, for a free, will undoubtedly help landlords, tenants and property investors to check out companies prior to doing business with them, though a credit check and referencing will also be necessary in most cases.
Unlike other Companies House services, individuals and companies can view company information on the new service without having to register to use it.
Their rationale for doing this is to support the economy – access to the information helps companies to make decisions on who they will do business with, and the government has found that making data available for free greatly increased how often people use it.
The initiative is also a considerable step forward in improving corporate transparency; a key strand of the G8 declaration at the Lough Erne summit in 2013.
It should open up new ways and opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ways of using the information.
Minister for the Cabinet Office at the time of its announcement Francis Maude said:
“The UK is an international leader in open data because it sharpens accountability, exposes waste and informs choice over public services. It is also the raw material of our age, providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to create new data-led businesses and fuel growth as part of this government’s long-term economic plan.
“Today’s announcement underlines our commitment to ensuring that data of most value to citizens and businesses is released and is as widely accessible as possible.”
Chair of the Public Data Group Claudia Arney said:
“The Public Data Group’s vast array of data is already being used to power a great range of products. With the PDG Summer Statement we’re aiming to encourage even more people to explore and use their data.
“The commitments seek to indicate what future open data sets will be released as well as setting out actions to enhance and improve the data’s usability.”
This commitment to more open data is part of a Public Data Group (PDG) Summer Statement (2104) that set out a range of activities and planned data releases by Companies House, Land Registry, Met Office and Ordnance Survey.
These include Land Registry expanding its monthly property price data to include commercial properties and Ordnance Survey supporting innovation around flood related issues through the release of river network information.
The most recent estimate placed the value of the PDG’s Open Data to the UK economy at over £900 million a year.
The Statement also commits PDG members to a review of how their licences can be more easily used by developers.
The PDG Summer Statement itself forms part of an updated Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Open Data Strategy, published 15 July 2014, which set out support for open data across BIS and its partner organisations. These activities include the creation of the Open Data Institute, Innovation Vouchers from the Technology Strategy Board and the work of the Research Councils, as well as activities in higher and further education.
- Before the introduction of open data Companies House customers are currently required to pay up to £1 per search to view business appointments, charges and document images, including annual accounts.
- Companies House is an executive agency of (BIS). The main functions of Companies House are to: incorporate and dissolve limited companies; examine and store company information delivered under the Companies Act and related legislation; make this information available to the public
- Any public information on the register that is delivered through digital channels will be available free of charge. This will include basic information about a company, accounts information, information on appointments and charges, and information about other events in a company’s life that are registered at Companies House. Electronic images will also be available free of charge.
- Any services in which Companies House has to manually intervene will continue to attract a fee to recover costs.
- Further information on the G8 declaration at the Lough Erne summit in 2013 can be found at: G8 Lough Erne Declaration
- The Public Data Group (PDG) brings together 4 government trading funds – Companies House, Land Registry, Met Office and Ordnance Survey – that excel in the collection, management and distribution of vital data sets under 1 banner. As well as fulfilling their own core public service roles, members drive growth in the economy and enable the improvement of services across the public sector. The PDG Summer Statement can be found at: Public Data Group: Open Data statement 2014
- The BIS Open Data Strategy is an update on the first BIS Open Data Strategy published in 2012. It uses the G8 Open Data Charter principles to sets out the wide range of BIS and its partner organisations activities that support the open data agenda. It can be found at BIS open data strategy 2014 to 2016
- A government response to the Public Administration Select Committee Report on Open Data and Statistics, setting out the wider government position on open data, will be published shortly.
- The Public Administration Select Committee Report on Open Data and Statistics can be found here.