… The Dept of Communities & Local Government

March 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm Leave a comment

Emailing the Government is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

2 years ago I asked Data.gov.uk about public toilet data. An unnamed person replied. They then contacted an unnamed person at DCLG on my behalf, and relayed the conversation to me. I’ve no idea who either were, but it worked. Thanks guys!

Later in my research I emailed the generic email address at DCLG about public toilets. I had to, as it wasn’t clear which more specific department or email address public toilets would fall under (I’m not sure DCLG know). I never heard back.

I then emailed someone in DCLG responsible for public toilets (according to the person I knew in DCLG who looked it up on their database), but I didn’t hear back then either. (Don’t really blame them, to be honest)

I also emailed my MP, and she replied by post (she always does, thus using a stamp and fancy House of Commons stationery – very nice but a bit peculiar and unnecessary. I digress..). She contacted a Minister on my behalf, and then posted me a printout of his typed response. Success! And evidence that, if you’ve got 2 months to wait around, an additional level of bureaucracy works.

Earlier this month I emailed a reply to that letter from the Minister to let him know that we’d done everything that he’d suggested (somewhat coincidentally) but that the project was ending and that perhaps the government would see the potential in taking the work on instead. Someone on Twitter just said how good my letter was, so I re-read it, and you know what? They’re right. It’s here: Public Toilets and … ?

Well I’ve just received a reply in a mere 3 weeks, not from the Minister, but from someone in the Decentralisation and Neighbourhoods team. It doesn’t really reply to my letter, but it does suggest that they’d at least read it, and it tells me about the useful things that DCLG are currently up to that may assist me in my public toilet open data work (that is, if we were doing it anymore.)

Thoughtful, and helpful, and lots to think about, if a little random. I’ve published it below.

Sooo, what shall I do next?

———————————–

Dear Ms Ramster,

Public Toilet Open Data

Thank you for your email of 8 February about your work in developing public toilet open data and ‘the Great British Public Toilet Map’.

I note your concerns about the availability of public toilet open data on local authority websites and agree that making more local data publicly available is important.

The Government has acted to ensure that the public has access to information about what councils are spending their resources on. In September 2011, this Department published the Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency. The Code enshrines three principles of transparency – demand-led, open and timely – while setting out the minimum information and data authorities should publish. The Code is not currently mandatory; however, it does set very clear policy expectations for local authorities which they should make every effort to meet. Subject to consultation, Ministers are minded to make the Code a legally binding requirement to strengthen compliance and ensure authorities can be held fully accountable to the people they serve.

Also, the Department has asked (and will shortly consult on) councils publishing information about the land and buildings they own. This should include public toilets. We have released on our website, 26 attributes we believe councils should publish with regard to their assets and will consult shortly on these. http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/xls/1960606.xls

In August last year the Department published a demonstrator map of public assets. This released the location of nearly 200,000 public land and building locations.

http://www.communities.gov.uk/localgovernment/decentralisation/capitalassets/demonstratormap/

The Department has asked all public sector bodies (excluding those subject to national security or other necessary restrictions) to publish the location of the land and building assets held within their corporate asset registers in an open and reusable format, and that these asset registers are then published on an annual basis.

I hope that these initiatives will help you with your work on opening up access to data on public toilets.

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