We’re pleased to announce that the local authority England register has been released to beta! In this guest post the register’s custodian, Stephen McAllister, shares his experience of going through the register creation process and responding to the feedback received during the alpha phase.
The value of the register
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is often asked for ‘the list’ of local authorities in England by analysts and people building services, including GOV.UK. This register not only provides the definitive list, but also prevents confusion and problems of version control created by different people holding different lists.
Together with GDS we had a number of discussions about what constituted a ‘local authority’ for the purposes of the register, and explained the variety of authorities that exist as well as local councils.
I received useful feedback on the register while it was in alpha, both in terms of enforcing the registers approach (always welcome when heartfelt) and in challenging the register’s shape and contents. I received over 30 comments from 9 organisations in the public and private sectors, which was invaluable in helping decide what the register should and should not cover.
I was also able to add my knowledge of dealing with local government structures, the relationships between local authorities, central government and their electorate to define the data model for the register.
Scope of the register
As well as deciding what should be included in the register, these meetings were fundamental in agreeing what should not be included.
For example, DCLG is not responsible for changes to local authorities in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland — instead that responsibility rests with their devolved administrations. In line with the original principles of open registers, if we are to have trusted canonical data sources that eliminate duplication and reduce error then they should be the owners of those registers.
Throughout alpha, based on user research and direct feedback, we made some more decisions about what the register should not cover.
These decisions included:
- Geospatial information: The register does not contain boundary data or geospatial information about local authorities because DCLG is not the authority for this. There will, however, likely be a local-authority-boundary-eng register which will provide this data and be maintained by the relevant custodian.
- Websites: DCLG does not police the websites of local authorities, meaning that maintaining this list wasn’t feasible - so I removed it from from the beta version of the register.
- Relationships between authorities: Perhaps contrary to popular belief, no hierarchy exists between local authorities and so the register does not contain any sort of information around relationships between different authorities.
- Naming convention: Local authority names are important in terms of local identity and civic pride. Because the value of registers is derived from accurately recording and maintaining information on the world as it exists, there is nothing to be gained by mandating the varying styles authorities choose to write their names.
- Unique identifiers: Where they existed, ISO codes have been retained. Where they didn’t we generated unique codes in the same format.
The future of the register
Now, when someone asks DCLG for a definitive list of local authorities in England, we can point to the register. Even better, we can explain that it it will always be up to date and accurate.
I’m very much looking forward to exploring how the register will change the way DCLG collects, manages and stores data. It’s interesting and exciting to be the custodian of the second register to be released to beta and to be able to work with GDS while the process is still in its infancy.
The uses for this data is only going to grow with time and I’m looking forward to archiving all of my old spreadsheets of local authorities and replacing them all with the single URL of the register.