Policy

Making local councils more transparent and accountable to local people

Issue

The public should be able to hold local councils to account about the services they provide. To do this, people need information about what decisions local councils are taking, and how local councils are spending public money.

If councils publish their data in open formats with open licences, people will be able to use and reuse the data for many different purposes.

Actions

Publishing council spending and salaries online

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has asked all local councils and fire and rescue authorities in England to publish spending information over £500 online.

We’ve created guides on publishing local spending data, senior salary information and new contracts. The guidance was produced by the Local Government Association, working with the Local Public Data Panel.

Local councils must now produce policy statements about staff pay, including senior and lower-paid staff.

People’s rights to see council accounts

People have 20 days a year to inspect town hall accounts.

Local government transparency code

We’ve drawn up a code of recommended practice for local authorities on data transparency.

In March 2014 we consulted on a proposed transparency code for parish councils with a turnover not exceeding £25,000.

Local council publicity

We’ve introduced a new publicity code for local councils in England. The code provides guidance on the content, style, distribution and cost of local authority publicity.

The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 gives this guidance greater force by putting compliance with the code on a statutory basis.

Reforming local audit

We are replacing the Audit Commission with new local arrangements for auditing local councils.

This means:

  • local bodies will be able to appoint their own auditors from an open and competitive market
  • oversight by the National Audit Office, Financial Reporting Council and professional accountancy bodies will make sure that high standards of auditing continue

The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 will disband the residual Audit Commission and introduce a new local audit framework. The Local Government Association will set up a new company to take on responsibility for management of the Audit Commission’s contracts until the legal introduction of local appointment in 2017.

Local procurement

We’re encouraging all councils to make regular use of Contracts Finder, a tool that helps match up providers and bidders.

We have made it easier for small and medium-sized companies to bid for contracts by removing the need for bidders to complete a pre-qualification questionnaire to tender for contracts under £100,000.

Accountability system statement for local government

DCLG publishes an annual Accountability system statement for local government. This sets out the funding systems, laws and guidance that apply to local councils and fire and rescue authorities.

Demonstrating the benefits of local transparency

In partnership with the London Borough of Lambeth, DCLG has developed Lambeth in Numbers to demonstrate how better access to information can help people to understand and solve problems in their area.

We’ll be using this demonstration project to stimulate further debate in Lambeth and other local council areas about open data.

The Openly Local project now makes use of the data provided by more than 140 local councils.

Publishing more council information will also put the voluntary sector and small businesses in a stronger position to bid for contracts.

Gathering better financial information from local government to help make public services more efficient

We ask local authorities in England to report revenue expenditure and forecast outturn every 3 months.

We’ve also published the single data list. This is a list of all the datasets that local government must submit to central government.

In accordance with HM Treasury requirements, DCLG collects returns from English local authorities for Whole of Government Accounts.

Background

Sir Bob Kerslake, Permanent Secretary of DCLG, published a report on the transparency of local public services in September 2011. The report recommended ways to make sure that local councils are transparent and accountable.

As a result of this report, all government departments started to publish annual ‘accountability system statements’ about the money they provide to local bodies. These statements demonstrate to Parliament that appropriate checks on spending are still in place following the move to a more local approach.

Who we’ve consulted

DCLG consulted on the draft local government transparency code in early 2011. In October 2012, we consulted on updating the code and making it mandatory.

We consulted on the draft Local Audit Bill in July and August 2012. In November 2013 we consulted on proposed regulations that will be needed for new local audit arrangements. On 30 January 2014 the Local Audit and Accountability Act became law. This will abolish the Audit Commission and put in place new local arrangements.

We consulted local authorities about our draft revised Publicity Code in 2010. The Communities and Local Government Select Committee also undertook a short inquiry looking at the draft revised Code. Their report (PDF 4.2MB) was published on 27 January 2011. We consulted on proposals to put compliance with the code on a statutory basis.

Bills and legislation

Public accountability of local government is covered in several Acts:

Partner organisations

We’re supporting the Local Public Data Panel, an independent panel of experts on open data and transparency chaired by Professor Nigel Shadbolt. The panel was set up to make local public services better understood and more accessible. Its members include local authorities, community activists and web developers.