Open Corporates The OpenCorporates platform, cuurently in alpha, will allow users to query the data using a number of filters
Company information and related government data has been brought together on one platform with the launch of OpenCorporates today.

The new online project, which was founded by OpenlyLocal.com's Chris Taggart and WhosLobbying.com founder Rob McKinnon, collates basic information about companies and then matches it to related government data.

Currently, according to OpenCorporates, the government does not store information on the types of companies they do business with, company numbers of approved suppliers, those that have been issued with health and safety notices, or of those which the government pays money to.

"Not only has OpenCorporates collated that information, it has also pulled in data on 3.8 million UK past and present companies, and matched the government data against those," a press release says.

"Over the next few months OpenCorporates will be adding company data from other countries – it already has the basic company information for Bermuda and Jersey – and will be combining that with further global public datasets."

In time the site will also add the ability for the community to contribute companies to the open database.

The platform allows users to query the data using a number of filters on imported public data, such as asking what companies that have supplied the government are now in administration or which companies have environmental statements and have had health and safety executive notices issued against them.

OpenCorporates' data and services are available under the share-alike attribution Open Database License (ODbL).

"This license permits others to share, create, and adapt the OpenCorporates database under the same license, even commercially, bringing much [of] this data out into the public realm for the first time," the press release adds.

OpenCorporates also provides a reconciliation service which is compatible with Google Refine, allowing users to match thousands of company names to actual companies "in a matter of minutes".

"The public, even the government, knows very little about companies, and the data they do have isn't brought together in one place," Taggart says in the release.

"OpenCorporates changes all that and allows the public, the government and developers to get a view of the corporate world previously only available to those large companies who could afford to subscribe to expensive proprietary databases."

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk before the launch Taggart said the new venture aims to provide a community driven service in an "organic way".

"It is something really simple but nevertheless quite powerful ... the ability to have a web page for every company in the world."

He added that it will also be a useful and time-saving tool for journalists, enabling reporters to search and filter information in one place as well as link to a company-related URL.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk last month founder of Helpmeinvestigate.com Paul Bradshaw said he would "absolutely" support this proposal.

"It follows the spirit of transparency and freedom of information, which is that as taxpayers we are entitled to know what public money is being spent on.

"Whether that is by a public or private organisation should make no difference - and indeed, if we are to prevent public bodies using that loophole to escape scrutiny then it's essential.

"I'd also argue that, given the government wants the private and voluntary sector to play a bigger role in delivering public services, they should be subject to the same scrutiny."

The Cabinet Office transparency board is currently carrying out a review of public data issues including a proposal that private companies be required to open up data and make their activities answerable to Freedom of Information law when they are contracted to work for the public sector.

The issue was raised by the Local Public Data Panel at its meeting in October, where it was warned that it was essential to "avoid a situation where outsourcing of services was used as a means of avoiding scrutiny and limiting transparency".

A statement given to Journalism.co.uk at the time by a Ministry of Justice spokesperson says that the government is looking at the Freedom of Information Act 2000 "to see where we can further increase the openness and transparency of public affairs whilst ensuring that sensitive information is adequately protected.

"We will announce the next steps on this in due course," they added.

OpenCorporates is currently is alpha.

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