Data experts across the country have echoed Eric Pickles’ call to get local authorities’ spending data online for the public to scrutinise.
Councils have until January to publish details of all their spending over £500 in full, and the clock is ticking with just 64 days to get their house in order.
A number of councils are 1 step ahead with their data online already, but opendata experts are urging them to go 1 step further, think outside the box and consider how they can make the information more useful for the public.
Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, said:
“I welcome today’s announcement that shows the government encouraging councils to publish their data online. Transparency, not just on spending but on all data across government, is essential in allowing people to engage with and challenge government. Today is a good step forward in opening up people’s access to information, but data on its own is not enough. I’d like to see the digital community stepping forward to build applications to make that data tangible and useful for the public - and maybe even making something more enterprising out of it!
“Councils should also see this as an opportunity to inspire more local people to get online and to show them that the internet can be a useful tool for them - whether that’s inspecting their councillor’s spend or accessing services and saving money themselves. All councils should sign up to the raceonline2012 campaign and make a pledge to help get everyone in their area online, not just their data.”
Jessica Crowe, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Scrutiny said:
“Transparency is a vital element of good governance and can help public bodies be accountable to the people they serve and whose money they spend. We urge local authorities to think creatively not just about the data they publish but how the public can use that information to hold them to account in a meaningful way and lead to better outcomes and value for money. We hope that other arms of government will follow DCLG’s example in promoting the principle of greater transparency across all public bodies.”
Professor Nigel Shadbolt of Southampton University, Chair of the Local Public Data Panel and a member of the Public Sector Transparency Board:
“The publication of all spends by local authorities over £500 is hugely important. Authorities spend millions and millions of pounds in our name, so why shouldn’t we know how that money is spent?
“It will be useful in a whole range of ways. We are going to be able to see what the pattern of spend is, what particular contractors are used and whether it represents value for money. Once it’s published councils can have a discourse with the citizen to find out how they want their money to be spent and where they would want to save. This is another important step in the drive for open data and transparency at all levels and across all of government.”
Chris Taggart, creator of Openly Local added:
“This is about a conversation with the people. Publishing information - which belongs to the public, after all - allows them to look at local spending and say ‘wait a minute, you could be saving money there’.
“There are all sorts of benefits to be gained from understanding the data and using the skills of the community to understand it. Councils themselves can benchmark their data and spending against other councils. People can build applications which will allow everyone to ask questions and join the conversation.”
Campbell Robb, Shelter Chief Executive, said:
“We welcome this news which we hope will be an important step in increasing transparency in how local authorities’ housing budgets are being spent. What is now important is to ensure this is rolled out in a way which ensures consistency across the country.
“We hope this announcement will be followed by a similar commitment to publish more detailed information on local housing issues, from rogue landlord convictions to success in tackling homelessness, so that local people can judge more effectively how their council is performing.”