00Executive summary

Cities are vital to the UK economy, with the 64 largest cities generating 60 per cent of GVA.1 They’re also diverse, complex and fast-changing which creates challenges to understanding and improving them. One of the factors constraining our ability to improve the functioning of UK cities is the lack of robust and timely data at the city level.

Fortunately two new ways of increasing the amount and improving the quality of data available on cities are emerging. The Government’s Open Data Policy, which aims to make more government data publicly and freely available to use and re-distribute; and the innovative use of big data, which covers all data collected – from CCTV cameras and sensors to mobile phones and search engine activity. While there is currently no model for estimating the size of the benefits from data re-use,2 the 2012 Open Data White Paper noted that an Open Data Policy is associated with monetary savings, innovation and social and economic growth.3

Despite the increasing importance of this data to both city and national policymaking, currently policy-makers are not fully utilising either of these methods, meaning they lag behind policy-makers in many other countries. The UK Government needs to do more to increase awareness of and use of the data it holds. Cities themselves need to recognise the value of the data they collect via organizations such as universities and private companies and begin sharing this data for the benefit of their residents. Cities also need to be more prepared to invest in big data projects, which can generate savings in the long-run through improving existing systems without the need to invest in any major re-developments.

This report will demonstrate the necessity of high quality, timely data to help improve city economies and the lives of UK citizens. It highlights some of the benefits seen around the world from opening up data, whether that data be classed primarily as public, private or big data. It also highlights data currently held by the UK Government that if released would significantly improve the understanding of cities; and it sets out some important areas in which data collection needs to be improved.

Policy recommendations:

  • Central and local government should prioritise the release of data they hold on city economies in order to provide cities with the information needed to enhance their economic performance and meet the needs of their citizens.
  • Central government and cities should set up a series of ‘hack days’ to encourage new uses of the data that they are releasing and secure funding from sponsors to turn ideas into functional products.
  • Cities should set up special interest groups to explore what existing public datasets can be used and combined to provide new insights, savings or proto-types reflective of their city’s needs.
  • Cities should look to share the big data they already collect by setting up on-line platforms that allow organisations to upload their own data and use the data of others.
  • Cities should lead on collecting new data and identifying uses of big data that could lead to long-term savings and benefits.


  • 1 Centre for Cities (2013) Cities Outlook – based on Primary Urban Areas
  • 2 BIS (15 May 2013) Shakespeare review: an independent review of Public Sector Information
  • 3 Cabinet Office (28 June 2012) Open Data White Paper: Unleashing the Potential