The body responsible for collecting and storing data about corporations in the UK, Companies House, has today announced it will open its entire company register for anyone to view, totally free. Last year UK individuals and businesses spent around £8.7 million accessing Companies House data, and the move is being branded as a boost to the UK economy, opening up millions of records for UK entrepreneurs to play with.

The move makes the UK the first company to have a free-to-access register of companies, and will vastly improve corporate transparency – an important tenet of the G8 declaration at the Lough Erne summit. An interesting caveat in the announcement is that only “digital” data held by Companies House will be available – potentially meaning the small number of companies and individuals still filing paper tax returns may not be included.

The UK Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

“The Government firmly believes that the best way to maximise the value to the UK economy of the information which Companies House holds, is for it to be available as open data. By making its data freely available and free of charge, Companies House is making the UK a more transparent, efficient and effective place to do business.

“Today’s commitments cement the UK’s position as a leader in the open data agenda.”

Companies House data is expected to be available for free as soon as April 2015 – however the move may have a more immediate impact on UK businesses. Companies such as UK Data and Duedil have built successful businesses by packaging and presenting Companies House data and reselling it to customers. These firms now face having the rug pulled out from under them, unless they can come up with a compelling value proposition in the face of free data available direct from Companies House.

The move is nevertheless likely to be welcomed as overwhelmingly positive by Open Data champions, corporate transparency campaigners and business groups. Chair of the Public Data Group (a group of four Government departments which publish in-depth, freely accessible data) Claudia Arney said:

“The Public Data Group’s vast array of data is already being used to power a great range of products. With the PDG Summer Statement we’re aiming to encourage even more people to explore and use their data.”

Photo by Alex