Town hall transparency to expose car parking charges

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

Government action to enshrine Town Hall transparency as an everyday activity will now also open up punitive parking charges to public scrutiny.

The government is asking for views on plans to make it a legal requirement for councils to open up every aspect of its business through the regular publication of a transparency inventory that will reveal data on pay, perks, spending, charities and now parking. Overall council parking income totalled £1.27 billion in 2010 to 2011.

Proposed amendments to The Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency will also introduce new transparency standards on parking charges.

Councils will have to publish soon as it is produced the number of off-street parking places and the revenue raised from them; the number of on-street parking places and the revenue they raise; as well as the revenue from parking fines and the number of free parking spaces available in line with the Portas Review of the High Street recommendations.

A recent survey found that almost 7 in 10 people intentionally avoided shopping areas with high parking prices. 2 thirds said they would return to the high street if parking was more affordable. 1 in 5 felt there were not enough spaces available. It also found that 4 out of 5 people pay up to £150 per month for parking.

Eric Pickles said:

“We are ending an era of bureaucratic accountability and replacing it with a more open era of democratic accountability. It is right that taxpayers get to see how Town Halls spend their hard earned taxes so they can properly hold local politicians to account.

“Finally all councils have taken up the £500 transparency challenge but publication is only happening in fits and starts. By writing Town Hall transparency into law we can make certain every citizen gets open and equal access to information about local public expenditure.

“As part of that we will expose a great council cash cow cover-up unmasking punitive parking practices that hit residents in the pocket. We’re calling time on local war against motorists - now, more than ever, we need to see the back of this shopping tax and encourage more people onto the high street.”

The proposals mean that all local authorities would be required to openly publish their spending over £500 online including, tenders, contracts, senior pay, councillor expenses, voluntary sector funding, meetings, and frontline service data so that ‘armchair auditors’ can clearly see the decisions being made on their behalf.

This department has been publishing details of all goods and services spent over £500 matching the level required of councils since August 2010. As one of Government’s transparency trailblazers that is now being extended to include all transactions above a new low threshold of £250. ‘Can do’ councils have been challenged to match that threshold.

As a minimum the code states that the public data that should be released in every council’s transparency inventory is:

  • expenditure over £500, (including costs, supplier and transaction information); Any sole trader or body acting in a business capacity in receipt of payments of at least £500 of public money should expect such payments to be transparent
  • senior employee salaries, names (with the option for individuals to refuse to consent for their name to be published), job descriptions, responsibilities, budgets and numbers of staff; ‘Senior employee salaries’ is defined as all salaries which are above £58,200 and above (irrespective of post), which is the Senior Civil Service minimum pay band; Budgets should include the overall salary cost of staff reporting to each senior employee
  • an organisational chart of the staff structure of the local authority including salary bands and details of currently vacant posts
  • the ‘pay multiple’ - the ratio between the highest paid salary and the median average salary of the whole of the authority’s workforce
  • councillor allowances and expenses
  • copies of contracts and tenders to businesses and to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector
  • grants to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector should be clearly itemised and listed
  • policies, performance, external audits and key inspections and key indicators on the authorities’ fiscal and financial position
  • the location of public land and building assets and key attribute information that is normally recorded on asset registers
  • data on democratic running of the local authority including the constitution, election results, committee minutes, decision - making processes and records of decisions

Further information

Provision of public data should become integral to local authority engagement with residents so that it drives accountability to them. Its availability should be promoted and publicised so that residents know how to access it and how it can be used. Presentation should be helpful and accessible to residents and other interested persons. Publication should be in open and machine-readable formats. It should be published as soon as possible following production even if it is not accompanied with detailed analysis. Where practical, local authorities should seek to publish in real time.

The Secretary of State published The Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency on 29 September 2011. The code asks councils to follow 3 principles of transparency when publishing data they hold; responding to public demand; releasing data in open formats available for re-use; and, releasing data in a timely way. This includes data on senior salaries and the structure of their workforce.

The consultation is open until 20 December 2012. Subject to the consultation and introduction of regulations a binding code would take effect later next year.

Public data should be published in a format and under a licence that allows open re-use, including for commercial and research activities, in order to maximise value to the public. The Open Government Licence published by The National Archive should be used as the recommended standard. Where any copyright concerns exist with public data these should be made clear.

Local authorities will also have a statutory duty to maintain and publish other lists of assets for example, lists of assets of community value and lists of those assets nominated but not deemed by the local authority to meet the definition of an asset of community value. Local authority assets will be on land and building property assets.

The Localism Act requires local authorities to be transparent about how senior salaries are set through the publication of annual pay statements. This will help to ensure that local remuneration arrangements - particularly for chief officers - provide value for money for the whole of the public sector.

The government’s associated guidance on Openness and accountability in local pay states that authorities should review the terms of senior appointments, particularly where arrangements could be perceived as seeking to minimise tax payments. It specifically states that councils should vote on salary packages for employees greater than £100,000 a year. Councils should also publicly justify any big bonuses, above inflation pay rises, or the recruitment of staff already in receipt of public sector retirement or severance money.

The data on gross sales, fees and charges income from parking is part of the Local Authority Revenue Outturn 2010-11.

Full details of the parking survey can be found in the press release