Cabinet Office backing for Leeds Data Mill

Mark Barrett, founder of Leeds Data Mill
Mark Barrett, founder of Leeds Data Mill
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THE Cabinet Office is backing a pioneering Yorkshire project to help change the way that people work, live and play in cities.

The Government department has provided £100,000 to Leeds Data Mill, a new website launched in December to collect and share big data from public, private and third sector organisations.

Civil servants invited founder Mark Barrett to pitch for the funding. They told him “nobody else in the country is doing this”.

“I thought ‘Oh my god, I’m doing it wrong’. But they said ‘you are leading the way and everyone else is going to be following’,” Mr Barrett told The Yorkshire Post.

The Leeds Data Mill aims to make public vast amounts of information for anyone to access and use in creative and inspiring ways.

Mr Barrett has persuaded Leeds City Council to use the website as the default publisher of its datasets. He is in talks with local authorities in Bradford, York and Sheffield about expanding the project to other Yorkshire cities.

To date, Leeds Data Mill has published council information on bus lane fines, annual benefit claims, adult establishment licences, tenanted housing stock, senior officer salaries, business rates and city centre footfall.

It has also reached agreements to publish information from Yorkshire Water, Metro, First Direct Arena and independent coffee shops. Leeds Data Mill currently has 50 datasets.

Mr Barrett wants to “tell the story of Leeds as a joined-up city like no other city in the world has ever done before”.

He believes that analysis of big data can revolutionise the understanding of cities and help to develop new services and solutions.

Kirstin Hutchinson, data governance manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “We are keen explore the possibilities that arise with the open data community in the region and we look forward to working with Leeds Data Mill to start to release some of our data and see how this can be used to create new insight and how it can be used with other data to create a rich picture of the local area.”

The Cabinet Office is supporting the project through its £15m Release of Data Fund.

Heather Savory, chairwoman of the Open Data User Group at the Cabinet Office, said Leeds Data Mill was one of the first projects to win funding.

She said accelerating the use of open data can “solve some of the key changes which need to be made in our communities and for our nation”.

Ms Savory added: “I hope that public sector data holders and the Government will see this as tangible evidence that, when the data and the resources are made available, tangible results can be driven out of the open data agenda very rapidly.”

A Government white paper in 2012 encouraged local authorities to publish open data sets.

Mr Barrett said Leeds council chief executive Tom Riordan is backing the project and has been promoting Leeds Data Mill to organisations in the city.

The council is also providing some funding through its citzen empowerment programme.

Leeds Data Mill wants to work with businesses to help them understand the best way to publish information, said Mr Barrett, who is very aware of privacy concerns surrounding big data.

“The most important thing is we don’t identify individuals because as soon we do that it ruins everything,” he added.

Mr Barrett said live, real-time data can help public services prepare for new challenges, such as outbreaks of illnesses or crime waves. Similarly, analysis of open data can yield multiple business applications.

“There are lots of businesses that are crying out for this sort of inside track on their market.

“It is understanding what’s happening in their world. They can either target their marketing better or help other companies target their marketing better,” said Mr Barrett, who is 35.

He grew up in Leeds and studied economics at university, but didn’t enjoy it so got into web development instead. Mr Barrett spent a decade in the sector, working on websites for Travelodge, Maserati, Ferrari and Save the Children.

He moved to the NHS and managed data, helping small companies to use health information to create new businesses.

He developed GP Ratings, said to be the first open data app to reach number one in the iTunes chart.

“I’ve found my passion after 15 years and am determined to do a good job for Leeds and put it on the map,” he said.