Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: local council transparency and accountability

Updated 8 May 2015

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

Applies to England

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/making-local-councils-more-transparent-and-accountable-to-local-people Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


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.


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.


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.

Appendix 1: people’s rights to see council accounts

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Every year councils must open their accounting records for the previous financial year for members of the public to inspect. The public can look at accounts over a set period of time (lasting 20 working days) usually after June, once the accounts have been finalised. People have the right to review the council’s accounts and also ‘all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts related to them’. This means that people can look at information without having to submit Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requests.

Councils have to make clear on their websites when their accounts can be checked by the public.

Appendix 2: publishing details of local council pay and jobs

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

DCLG has produced guidance about openness and accountability for local government pay.

Councils and fire and rescue authorities must prepare pay policy statements. These statements must set out the authority’s own policies on how much it pays its staff, particularly its senior staff (or ‘chief officers’) and its lowest-paid employees. The statements must be:

  • prepared for each financial year, beginning with 2012 to 2013
  • approved by full council, or a meeting of members in the case of a fire and rescue authority
  • published on councils’ or fire and rescue authorities’ websites

Appendix 3: local data for Whole of Government Accounts

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

In accordance with HM Treasury requirements, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) collects returns from English local authorities for whole of government accounts. These are a set of financial accounts for the entire UK public sector. They help Parliament and the public to understand and scrutinise how taxpayers’ money is spent.

English local government is the largest individual component of this set of accounts, including (for the 2011 to 2012 accounts) 448 local government bodies.

Whole of Government Accounts are published by HM Treasury and present public finances in a way that is familiar to the commercial and accountancy professions. This makes information about public finances more transparent and accessible.

DCLG has published Whole of Government Accounts for local government 2010 to 2011

Guidance for local authorities

Guidance for local authorities for completing the Whole of Government Accounts for 2013 to 2014 was published in April 2014.

Guidance for local authorities for previous years is on the National Archives.

Appendix 4: quarterly revenue outturn

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) asks English local authorities to report their revenue expenditure and spending forecast every 3 months (the ‘quarterly revenue outturn’).

We do this to improve:

  • the economic data used for fiscal monitoring by HM Treasury
  • the data maintained by the Office for National Statistics that are used to monitor changes in the wider economy

This helps the government manage public finances and economic stability.

Historically, outturn on local authority revenue spending has differed from budget. These quarterly returns allow spending patterns to become clearer throughout the year as the submitted data is more up to date and accurate.

The data are collected following quarters 1, 2 and 3 of the financial year. Full collection began in the 2011 to 2012 financial year.

DCLG has worked closely with HM Treasury and officials in the Office for Budget Responsibility to develop an approach that can balance the need for the data with the government’s commitments to reduce overall burdens on local authorities.

You can view the quarterly revenue outturn statistics and the form and guidance notes.

Appendix 5: single data list

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The single data list is a list of all the datasets that local government must submit to central government.

If a data requirement is not on the list, councils won’t have to collect and provide it without receiving extra funding. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made this commitment to local government in a written ministerial statement.

The government has reduced the number of required datasets by 81 since summer 2010 and significantly reduced the scale of a further 34.

We are working to reduce the burden of data collection further. To help achieve this, all new proposed data requirements from local government will need to:

  • meet one or more of 6 principles
  • be fully funded as outlined in new burdens procedures
  • pass through a ‘gateway group’ chaired by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association to ensure that any proposed new data requirements place the minimum possible burden on local government

Principles for assessing new data requirements from local government

There are 6 principles for assessing proposed new data requirements from local government. Each data request must comply with at least one of these principles.

Central government may reasonably require data from local councils:

  • to fulfil international obligations, for example under EU directives
  • to support the effective administration of funding - clarity is important here in highlighting where data are being used as proxies (for example, data on free school meals being used as a proxy for need)
  • to support accountability to Parliament for national public funds and national policy decisions
  • to hold public services to account, for example holding government to account for national delivery
  • to support the evaluation of economic, social and environmental trends
  • to provide comparable local performance data, by exception, where it doesn’t already exist, to enable local people to hold local services to account