Sunday, June 6, 2010

Councils told to publish expenditure over £500

The Conservative decentralisation, or localism, plan does not just mean handing powers down from central government to councils, it also means handing power directly to people. Conservatives believe in treating adults like adults and understand that people will rise to the opportunity if given responsibility. That is why Conservative policy is being enacted by the new government to publish all items of expenditure over £25,000 and why Eric Pickles is requesting councils to publish all spending over £500. This ties in with another Conservative campaign on transparency and openness in general.

By publishing expenditure freely for everyone to see people will be able to scrutinise public bodies to such an extent that it will be difficult for the bodies to get away with wasting public money so easily as they currently do. The change will also make it easier for local suppliers to bid for contracts which will be great news for the small businesses which have been so badly hit during the recession and on which our recovery will depend.

Chris Howell had already urged the city council to follow the best practices showcased by Conservative-run councils like the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which already publishes all expenditure over £500.

It will be important that councils release the data in a format that can be manipulated systematically and I am sure that groups such as mySociety will be quick off the mark with interesting and useful tools for analysing the data.

It seems that the new policy is due to be effective by January, but why wait? Coleridge Conservatives call on Cambridge City Council to end its culture of secrecy and start publishing the data as soon as possible. The Openness motion of which Chris supported the strengthening last year already called for change but what progress has been made?


Equinox said...

Will the Council also be publishing the hygiene ratings of all the pubs, bars and restaurants for all to see?

There are currently none for our area - even though councils across the country are being encouraged to do this in the run up to the World Cup -

Andrew Bower said...

Aren't there? I thought there were and they seemed to be there when I just looked, unless what appeared to be described as a hygiene inspection rating wasn't actually such.

NickW said...

Hygiene 'scores' are available through this website. I set up the scheme for CCC when I had the misfortune of working for the Banana Republic. The software and supports costs approximately £2500 per annum.

Scores on the doors is basically a representation of 3 components of the Food Standards Agency Food Law Code of Practice those being Structural compliance, cleanliness, and confidence in management

If you want to see the actual hygiene inspection reports for specific premises then Freedom of Information is the way to obtain that. Food premises inspections are public information however maybe censored if they contain some personal information.

Richard Taylor said...

I've been lobbying Cambridge City Council and asking them to publish more information about their inspections of food premises:

NickW said...

Interesting Blog Richard

Characteristically poor and uninformed answer by Claire Blair as to be expected

They appear to be using the 'personal information' criteria to excuse not publishing the letters. In my opinion most food hygiene inspection letters can be easily written without including any personal information. A letter addressed to 'Mr Jones - General Manager' is not personal information.

As stated previously the cost to the tax payer is approximately £2500 per annum. I would agree it is better to buy this in than try and reinvent the wheel.

Theunis Viljoen said...

Although some Councils have already started to publish details of payments to suppliers over £500, there is obviously a reticense to develop costly reporting solutions. Councils therefore appear to publish the information in downloadable format either as Excel spreadsheets or PDF documents. Although this may 'tick' the required disclosure requirements, we do not believe that this provides real value to the public.

Information such as this only has real value if it can be viewed in context (i.e. is a payment normal or abnormal). For a user to be able to make this interpretation, they may need to be able to look at spend in a month for a particular expense category against similar spend in previous periods or against other categories.

BIOLAP has developed an application, driven by arcplan technology, that we will provide to Councils free of charge to allow members of the public to analyse expenditure, slice and dice information and drill through to the underlying transactions.

Please try out our free Council Expenses Dashboard at -