This week sees the launch of a new public body - the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) - to be responsible for setting standards and recommending best practice for promoting the re-use of public sector information and providing for coherent procedures for gaining access to that information.
Its creation forms part of the implementation in the UK of an EU Directive on re-use of public sector information, such as that produced by central government, local authorities and health authorities. The Directive, designed to bring about the harmonisation of the rules and practices in the EU member states relating to the exploitation of public sector information, must be implemented in the UK and all other member states by 1 July 2005. In the UK, the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005 will come into force on that date. Some public sector bodies such as public service broadcasters, schools, universities, libraries and research facilities, museums and theatres are not subject to the Directive.
OPSI has been developed out of Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO), but with a wider remit to provide advice on and regulate the operation of the re-use of public sector information, and to act as mediator in the resolution of disputes. HMSO continues to exist and all legislation will continue to be published on behalf of HMSO, which will continue to carry out certification of legislation and administer the exercise of the rights of the Crown in Crown copyright works. However all HMSO documentation will now be accessed through OPSI's website.
OPSI will ensure that public sector bodies implement the new regulations which will include making clear the basis for re-use and any costs involved, and responding swiftly (within 20 working days in most cases) to applications.
The Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information, which has been in existence since 2003 and consists of a number of experts and members of relevant organisations, advises the government on aspects of re-use of public sector information and will deal with complicated disputes. It can review decisions made by OPSI, who will disclose details of all disputes to the Advisory Panel.
In addition, OPSI will administer the Information Fair Trader Scheme, designed to ensure that re-users of public sector information can be confident that they will be treated reasonably and fairly by providers of public sector information. Public sector bodies can register voluntarily with the Scheme, in which they make a commitment to fair trader principles and independent verification of that commitment.
OPSI will also manage the Information Asset Register which will contain information about assets held by the UK Government.
The website of the Office of Public Sector Information is at www.opsi.gov.uk