Eric Pickles has opened up a new front in the war on council waste by issuing new guidance for local authorities to publish key spending data. The new transparency code will be mandatory for all councils whose gross income exceeds £6.5 million.
Councils will be required to publish spending on corporate credit cards, money raised from parking charges, trade union facility time, contracts and tenders, property assets, and grants to voluntary and community groups. There are of course some councils who do publish this data, allowing residents to scrutinise what is being done with their cash, but too many local authorities need to vastly improve their transparency.
Spending over £500, transactions on government cards and procurement information for values over £5,000 would be published quarterly under the new rules. Details of officers’ salaries over £50,000, land and assets owned, and grants to voluntary, community and social enterprise groups would be published annually.
The TaxPayers' Alliance has led the way in pushing for greater transparency in local government, with its Town Hall Rich List, and reports on taxpayer funding of trade unions, empty property rates and councillors allowances. Much of the data that will now be published has previously only been available thanks to TPA reports like our research into local authority middle management pay.
Allowing taxpayers to access more data on how their money is spent will hopefully make councils more accountable. With local government required to find further savings, it has never been more important to know how your council spends your money.
A recent poll found that 75 per cent of councils plan to respond to reductions in central government funding by hiking Council Tax, rather than cutting waste and bureaucracy. Yet six out of ten people polled in a recent ICM survey thought that their local public services had improved despite spending cuts. Councils can cut spending without cutting services.
Clearly there is a significant gulf between the opinions of the people paying the bills and the politicians who are meant to represent them. Ensuring councils make their spending public ought to concentrate the minds of councillors on the wishes of the people who elect them.
Mr Pickles said that:
"Councils need to make sensible savings to help freeze Council Tax and protect front-line services. This new wave of town hall transparency will empower armchair auditors to expose municipal waste - from surplus offices and corporate credit cards to trade union ‘pilgrims’, and help councillors drive down costs. Greater power for local government must go hand in hand with greater local transparency and local accountability."
In the last two decades, councils have become bloated at our expense. It’s time they let you know what they have been doing with your money.
The new transparency code will strengthen local accountability by empowering local people to identify wasteful spending. It is a real exercise in giving power to the people.