Useful Transparency

November 09, 2010 10:41 AM

The new Number 10 transparency website went live yesterday and at first glance it seems like an excellent initiative. It’s great that members of the public can see what their hard earned taxes are being spent on.  


When completed in 2011 it will be a portal through which people can view departmental spending and the salaries of civil servants. It will also be possible to check departments against pre-determined ‘business plans’ to check their progress. But does it really give power back to the people? Will it generate real accountability?


Douglas Carswell MP mentions on his blog that it could become just another gesture of openness, of which we’ve seen plenty over the years. He argues that the fundamental problem with this venture is that the Government will not be answerable to the electorate, but to the executive.


And what are the consequences for failure? This was discussed over at the Coffee House blog, with Pete Hoskin arguing that there needs to be a procedure for apportioning blame. Offenders need to be held to account if their spending is reckless or wasteful to avoid this becoming a futile exercise.


Both raise good points. The TPA have pushed for spending transparency for years but we’ve also said that it must be useful. For example, releasing data in a format that can people can understand and use is crucial if transparency is to be more than a gimmick. The same applies here; transparency has to mean something, and not be an end in itself. If we are to have true accountability then it has to be outward. As Carswell pointed out in his blog post:


 “If we are serious about making government more accountable, it needs to be made outwardly accountable.  Whitehall needs to be made to answer more to Parliament - and Parliament to the people.”


It’s fantastic that transparency is being taken seriously. But this should not be seen by Number 10 as the end of the story; they need to build from here. If the Government can bridge the gap between transparency and accountability then this will be a meaningful first step. If they fail to do so, then this whole exercise will have been undermined.

The new Number 10 transparency website went live yesterday and at first glance it seems like an excellent initiative. It’s great that members of the public can see what their hard earned taxes are being spent on.  


When completed in 2011 it will be a portal through which people can view departmental spending and the salaries of civil servants. It will also be possible to check departments against pre-determined ‘business plans’ to check their progress. But does it really give power back to the people? Will it generate real accountability?


Douglas Carswell MP mentions on his blog that it could become just another gesture of openness, of which we’ve seen plenty over the years. He argues that the fundamental problem with this venture is that the Government will not be answerable to the electorate, but to the executive.


And what are the consequences for failure? This was discussed over at the Coffee House blog, with Pete Hoskin arguing that there needs to be a procedure for apportioning blame. Offenders need to be held to account if their spending is reckless or wasteful to avoid this becoming a futile exercise.


Both raise good points. The TPA have pushed for spending transparency for years but we’ve also said that it must be useful. For example, releasing data in a format that can people can understand and use is crucial if transparency is to be more than a gimmick. The same applies here; transparency has to mean something, and not be an end in itself. If we are to have true accountability then it has to be outward. As Carswell pointed out in his blog post:


 “If we are serious about making government more accountable, it needs to be made outwardly accountable.  Whitehall needs to be made to answer more to Parliament - and Parliament to the people.”


It’s fantastic that transparency is being taken seriously. But this should not be seen by Number 10 as the end of the story; they need to build from here. If the Government can bridge the gap between transparency and accountability then this will be a meaningful first step. If they fail to do so, then this whole exercise will have been undermined.

Latest Blogs:

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

The sugar tax and the public finances

6:00 AM 05, Dec 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Working for the taxman

6:00 AM 26, Nov 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Further thoughts on the Autumn Statement

4:56 PM 24, Nov 2016 James Price

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Have we had too much austerity?

10:57 AM 23, Nov 2016 Alex Wild