Conservative Manifesto

Data and The Conservative Party Manifesto

We always like it when politicians come to Yorkshire and we’ve had the two largest political parties over in God’s own county this week. The Labour manifesto was launched in Bradford on Tuesday and today we got the Conservative Party manifesto in Halifax.

I could guess that The Conservatives had said something about data when I saw the barrage of notifications on my phone this afternoon.

This is the paragraph you’re all asking us about.

Tory Manifesto Data Section
What you're all asking me about.

“What does it mean Tom?” you’re all asking. Thanks for thinking that I might know.

Here’s my first take, and please be gentle – I’ve only got an hour between meetings for this. This is how I’m translating it in my mind.

“We’re dealing with floods, a housing crisis in London and the South East, an empty shops crisis in our towns, a big public backlash against fracking, and a productivity gap of 30% between our big Northern cities and their European equivalents. And whenever we try to fix these problems we find that our data isn’t good enough to inform our decisions. Or we find that we aren’t good enough at communicating the data to convince people that we’re doing the right thing. Having made good progress on open data early on we’re now worried that we’re falling behind countries like The Netherlands and France, especially when it comes to optimising land use. We accept that open data will lead to more innovation and business success (and thus income for the country) than trying to license data as we let happen with Ordnance Survey and a privatisation of the Postal Address File that we now regret. So we’re going to threaten some organisations to release more data so that more cool stuff can be done with it – we’re really impressed with what Leeds City Council have done on this and we want to do it for the whole country”.

This is great. There’s no detail in the statement, “relevants parts” gives enough wriggle-room to do nothing, and the rest is just ambition. But it’s a good ambition. The RTPI have been battling for it for years with their Map for England . And we’ve been making good progress, and seeing the early rewards of a similar approach in Leeds, with pioneering work at Data Mill North. We like to think that our series of events such as FloodHack , AirHack, HighwaysHack, and soon TravelHack – and the innovation and business growth that’s come from them have informed the paragraph.

But what specifically about planning?

We’ve been doing loads of work on planning, supported by The Future Cities Catapult, Adobe, and all of the sponsors that you can see at the bottom of this page. Our A Clearer Plan project combines dozens of datasets and massively simplifies and automates the planning process. Our PDF for Planners work accepts that documents will continue to play a key role in the process of planning and aims to make the UK a world-leader in linking documents and data together. The analysis that I’ve done on Leeds’ unusually functional housing market relies on data relevant to planning that Leeds publishes better than anywhere else in the UK. And our responses to ONS consultations on housing need challenge the government to improve the data behind predicting housing need .

But we’ve also written about how current data policies in the UK hold us back. Our Leeds Bins app costs more to run and works less well because of our closed address system – a problem that France doesn’t have. Our tools for planning work less well than they would in The Netherlands where greater public information on housing and land use permits extremely detailed analysis that we can't copy.

It is exciting to see that people in the Conservative Party are listening. And we like to think that we and our sponsors, including Leeds Council, Bradford Council, and Calderdale Council, played a small part in showing what was possible.