News story

More than 60 councils open books to armchair auditors

Local authorities that don’t put their spending detail online are denying the public the right to hold their council to account, Secretary of…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Local authorities that don’t put their spending detail online are denying the public the right to hold their council to account, Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles said today.

All councils and Fire and Rescue Authorities are expected to publish details of all spending over £500 in full online by January. With just 64 working days till the start of the New Year the clock is ticking for councils to open their files so the public can see where their money is being spent.

As part of meeting the transparency target Mr Pickles has welcomed new guidance from the Local Government Association detailing best practice for putting council spending and senior salary information online. They stress the importance of ensuring that the data is clear, comprehensible, machine readable, licensed to encourage reuse and so local people know it’s available.

Mr Pickles’ own department continues to lead the way. This week it published all its spending data online for 2008-09 and for the first quarter of 2010-11.

Mr Pickles said:

I’ve called for a new era of transparency where all councils publish their spending over £500 online. I commend those councils that have been brave enough to face public scrutiny so far. There are now only sixty or so working days for those lagging behind to catch up.

This isn’t another central government box-ticking exercise. The public have a right to see how their council tax is being spent so they know they are getting value for money and the best possible frontline services.

I want to see an army of ‘Armchair Auditors’ pore over the information and hold their council to account if things are not done right. That means the data also has to be easily accessible: today advice has been published that will help councils yet to comply. There are hundreds of computer whizzes who’ll find creative new ways to make that raw data relevant to local life.

Central Government resources to assist citizens wanting to access national and local data for free re-use include the website (external link). The CLG datasets published this week are available on this website. Other websites like OpenlyLocal (external link) are also making it easier to access data and to interrogate or compare the published information.

Some councils have also found innovative ways of using their spending data. For example, Redbridge Council has created a truly innovative budgeting tool called ‘You Choose’ which lets the public try to balance the council’s budget themselves. This gives them a say on where every public penny goes in their area. It has been so successful that the Local Government Association has decided to sponsor it and make it available to all councils.

Professor Nigel Shadbolt of Southampton University, a member of the Public Sector Transparency Board said:

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 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.

Notes to editors

  1. You can find out which councils have already published their spending data over £500 online at: ; a map and timeline of these councils can be found at: (external link).

  2. Getting data out in the open is just the first step for Government. The real potential for open government lies with greater transparency by unlocking innovation and analysis and scrutiny. Individuals and community groups can us the data understand the decisions councils take every day or to create new business opportunities who find solutions and ideas using the information in new ways. Here Communities Secretary Eric Pickles talk more about council transparency at: (external link).

  3. In line with the transparency agenda requirements on spend transparency for central government departments, councils should be publishing their own spend by January 2011. Today the LGA has published new advice about how councils should publish their spending details. It has taken the original advice of the Local Public Data Panel and sought to provide additional practical guidance. It sets out what should be included; how to make the information available under open license in machine readable format; and how to approach redactions and personal data. The guidance is currently aimed at councils, police authorities and fire and rescue authorities - but there is no reason why other public bodies such a parish councils and waste authorities should not also follow the guidance. Full details can be found at: (external link).

  4. In line with the transparency agenda requirements on the pay of senior public servants, councils should have their salary information published by 31 January 2011 providing a snapshot from 31st October 2010. Data to be published for each individual includes; Organisation Name, Body (organisational identifier), Individual’s Name (subject to consent), Job title, Service Area, Full-Time Equivalent, FTE Pay band for disclosure - this will be shown in £5,000 bands (for instance, £80,000 £84,999). Councils are also asked to publish data on the scale of their authority in terms of; employment, expenditure and service responsibilities. The guidance, Transparency - publication of senior salary information Reporting Guidance, is intended to assist local authorities in the preparation and publication of senior salary information. Full details can be found at: (external link).

  5. Openly Local is a place to access data about the workings of your Local Council, without having to poke around through dense, difficult-to-navigate websites. It can be found at: (external link).

  6. Redbridge Council’s new ‘You Choose’ public engagement tool shows residents how the council currently spends their money and asks them to feed back and suggest how they can make savings. Redbridge council successfully trialled the tool last year and it has now been expanded to other councils across the country with the help of YouGov and the Local Government Association. Redbridge’s YouChoose tool can be found at: (external link).


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Published 1 October 2010