Transparency in Local Government

Perhaps some of this has become a sort of political football, but I feel residents of Solihull should demand to know how we use their money and how we prioritise services. We have also come a long way since people started to get to know more about their services when John Major introduced the ‘Citizen Charter’ in the early 1990’s. Prior to then it seems the running of local public services were left to the professionals, who knew what was needed and how to do it. It certainly seemed that when I was in the police service (perhaps it was still a force then?)

Following a consultation with local authorities last year the government published its response ‘Code of recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency’. See publication here: Transparency_Code_Government_Response .

The paper is summed up by the Department of Communities and Local Government as;

As part of the drive to help cut council waste and increase local accountability, new provisions were announced today (12 December 2013) to strengthen the public’s ability to hold councils to account.

The transparency code for councils introduced by the coalition government was voluntary, but adherence to it will now become mandatory for all councils with gross income or expenditure above £6.5 million.

In addition to existing requirements the statutory code will now also require councils to publish:

  • spending on corporate credit cards
  • greater openness on the money raised from parking charges, allowing residents to ‘go compare’ with neighbouring councils
  • subsidies given to trade unions, including union “facility time”
  • information on councils’ contract and tenders, to make it easier for small and medium firms to bid for work and introduce more competition to lower costs
  • local authorities’ property assets, to help drive better efficiency of the £220 billion town hall estate
  • grants given to voluntary and community groups, to show how councils are backing the Big Society

I don’t always agree with Eric Pickles, and many people do not at all, but I doubt anyone can complain when he states “Councils need to make sensible savings to help freeze Council Tax and protect frontline services. This new wave of town hall transparency will empower armchair auditors to expose municipal waste – from surplus offices and corporate credit cards to trade union ‘pilgrims’, and help councillors drive down costs. Greater power for local government must go hand in hand with greater local transparency and local accountability.”

I see a great deal of connection with the drive to ‘Rewire Public Services’ which is the theme of a special Full Council meeting here at Solihull on Tuesday 18 February. I will post more about this later in the week.

What are your thoughts?


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