Digital Economy Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Administrative Data Research Network (DEB 57)

Submission to the Digital Economy Bill, Public Bill Committee regarding Part 5 (Digital Government) by the Directors of the Administrative Data Research Network, Professor Chris Dibben, Professor David Ford, Dr Dermot O’Reilly, Professor Peter Smith and Melanie Wright

1. The UK’s Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) [1] is an entity funded by the Economic and Social Research Council specifically to provide a UK-wide, fully extensible means of safely linking and sharing governmental data to support research conducted both within government and academia, and overseen by the UK Statistics Authority.

2. We welcome this Bill – specifically those sections on data sharing for Research and Statistics in Part 5. Whilst the ADRN has made considerable progress over recent years, it remains true that many Ministries, Departments and governmental agencies remain concerned about the lack of a clear permissive legal gateway. The Bill has the potential to provide the required clarity and we believe this will make a considerable difference.

3. Our work and international evidence from New Zealand, Finland, and many of the provinces and states of Canada and Australia suggests that the systematic re-use of data collected by government and their agencies has enormous potential to support better policymaking and planning, understanding what works through robust evaluation, and more efficient and effective public services. The USA too are now making very considerable headway. We are clear that the proposed legislation will have a very significant impact on the UK’s ability to realise this potential, clarifying the legal route to data sharing for research – something that, to date, has undoubtedly impeded progress.

4. We are well aware of the potential public concern about some elements of the draft legislation. However in the multiple consultative processes in which we have been involved during the inception and development of the ADRN, we have always found that approaches such as those used by the ADRN and are outlined in the draft Bill, that are transparent, accountable, use only carefully de-identified and privacy-protected data, and are focussed on clear public benefit, gain public trust easily. We suspect that data sharing for the other purposes set out in the Bill, which have significantly less clear protections, might prove more contentious. We hope that the research and statistics element of the Bill’s data sharing proposals will be protected from any conflating debate concerning the potentially more contentious themes.

5. We welcome the inclusiveness of the legislation’s scope in terms of the Department and Ministries covered but are concerned that the Department of Health appears to be excluded. This we consider a significant lost opportunity, as so much very worthy research will continue to be frustrated. Our experience is that health data contributes massively to the better understanding of a wide range of societal outcomes and that the diverging approaches between health and the rest of government in terms of data sharing will significantly impede progress.

6. Finally, we would like to emphasise how the approach outlined in the Research and Statistics strand of the Bill and the Code of Practice that would subsequently accompany it, provides a robust, effective and, importantly, publicly acceptable means of securing that massive societal, governmental and service benefits that data linkage research can offer. We believe it represents an excellent example of good practice which will put the UK as leaders in the field internationally.

7. We applaud this new Bill and are all committed to maximising the benefits that will flow from it, as and when it becomes law.

19 October 2016



Prepared 20th October 2016