Only 85 per cent of Councils meet Transparency Deadline

February 01, 2011 12:00 PM

Councils across England had until midnight last night to publish online, details of all their spending over £500. The Communities and Local Government Secretary told councils last June to declare details of spending over £500 and gave them the deadline of 31st January 2011 to do so. Thereby enabling local taxpayers’ to see exactly how councils spend their money.  It’s vital that residents have the opportunity to scrutinise every area of spending to ensure proper accountability.

Last week Public Service reported that up to 39 councils would fail to meet the deadline; however a cursory glance on the DCLG website this morning reveals that in fact 299 out of the 354 councils have now fulfilled their responsibility, meaning more than 50 haven’t. Councils have had since June to publish their spending, an eight month period which the majority of councils saw as sufficient time to get the information online. The councils have not only failed to meet the standards set out by the Communities Secretary, they have failed their residents, who have a right to see this information.

Last Friday, anticipating that many councils would not meet the necessary standard, David Sparks from the Local Government Association said:

"Local government is the most directly accountable part of the public sector and councils work hard to stay in close touch with residents to ensure they provide the best, most efficient services possible. With local authority budgets being cut by 28 per cent over the next four years, councils are aware that they have to demonstrate that the money they spend is going on the things their residents want and need the most. The vast majority of councils have invested considerable time and staff resource to make their spending information available to their residents. This is an excellent effort by the sector at a time when councils are having to find efficiencies and savings in all areas.”



As the council trade association their defence is not surprising, but councils should be more up front – if they are going to be late publishing the data, say so and say when it will be ready. The attitude of councillors like David Lee, the Leader of Wokingham Borough Council, is contrary to this. Last month he was quoted as saying:
“Publishing the historic information is not a number one priority but it will be done. But I have a fear it will give fuel to people who have nothing better to do.”

This outlook is seemingly not that rare. As our National Grassroots Coordinator Andrew Allison wrote last week, the leader of Bradford Council Ian Greenwood has a similar lackadaisical attitude to publishing his councils spending. He claimed:
“There’s an obligation been put on us by the Communities Secretary to disclose all bills of £500 or above. We won’t be doing that until all the invoices have been purged of commercially-sensitive information that could enable Bradford suppliers to be undercut by firms elsewhere once the details are published.”

While he has to “purge” the data for commercially sensitive information, he fails to mention he has had the same eight months all councils have had to meet this deadline.

You can check if your council has published their spending here. If they have not yet done so then write to your Councillor here and ask them why. Accountability and transparency are vital and the sooner councils get on board with this the betterCouncils across England had until midnight last night to publish online, details of all their spending over £500. The Communities and Local Government Secretary told councils last June to declare details of spending over £500 and gave them the deadline of 31st January 2011 to do so. Thereby enabling local taxpayers’ to see exactly how councils spend their money.  It’s vital that residents have the opportunity to scrutinise every area of spending to ensure proper accountability.

Last week Public Service reported that up to 39 councils would fail to meet the deadline; however a cursory glance on the DCLG website this morning reveals that in fact 299 out of the 354 councils have now fulfilled their responsibility, meaning more than 50 haven’t. Councils have had since June to publish their spending, an eight month period which the majority of councils saw as sufficient time to get the information online. The councils have not only failed to meet the standards set out by the Communities Secretary, they have failed their residents, who have a right to see this information.

Last Friday, anticipating that many councils would not meet the necessary standard, David Sparks from the Local Government Association said:

"Local government is the most directly accountable part of the public sector and councils work hard to stay in close touch with residents to ensure they provide the best, most efficient services possible. With local authority budgets being cut by 28 per cent over the next four years, councils are aware that they have to demonstrate that the money they spend is going on the things their residents want and need the most. The vast majority of councils have invested considerable time and staff resource to make their spending information available to their residents. This is an excellent effort by the sector at a time when councils are having to find efficiencies and savings in all areas.”



As the council trade association their defence is not surprising, but councils should be more up front – if they are going to be late publishing the data, say so and say when it will be ready. The attitude of councillors like David Lee, the Leader of Wokingham Borough Council, is contrary to this. Last month he was quoted as saying:
“Publishing the historic information is not a number one priority but it will be done. But I have a fear it will give fuel to people who have nothing better to do.”

This outlook is seemingly not that rare. As our National Grassroots Coordinator Andrew Allison wrote last week, the leader of Bradford Council Ian Greenwood has a similar lackadaisical attitude to publishing his councils spending. He claimed:
“There’s an obligation been put on us by the Communities Secretary to disclose all bills of £500 or above. We won’t be doing that until all the invoices have been purged of commercially-sensitive information that could enable Bradford suppliers to be undercut by firms elsewhere once the details are published.”

While he has to “purge” the data for commercially sensitive information, he fails to mention he has had the same eight months all councils have had to meet this deadline.

You can check if your council has published their spending here. If they have not yet done so then write to your Councillor here and ask them why. Accountability and transparency are vital and the sooner councils get on board with this the better

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