Saturday 5 June 2010

Government Backtracks on Local Council Transparency

I should have know it was too good to be true. Less than a week after Cameron repeated an earlier pledge that from January 2011, all local government spending over £500 would be available online, his government has climbed down and offered secretive councils like Newham a convenient loophole.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has quietly announced that he will no longer introduce legislation to force local authorities to open their books, but only 'encourage' them to do so. This is rather different to 'requiring' them to become more transparent, as the government's coalition agreement promised.

In a shamelessly populist article in the Daily Telegraph, Pickles has instead focused on the issue of the bloated salaries of senior council staff - but this information is far less important than knowing how councils spend our money on front line services and much is already in the public domain. For example, we have known since October 2008 that the chief executive of Newham council, Joe Duckworth, receives a record salary of £240,000, double what his predecessor Dave Burbage was paid. This is already confirmed online by the council.

What we don't yet know is specific information on opaque areas of council expenditure - such as how Newham accounts for the funding it received for 'Preventing Violent Extremism' over the last year, for example.

The Local Government Association will be delighted by this U-turn by Pickles - its "open and comprehensive offer from local government to the new coalition government" announced on Thursday makes no mention of greater transparency.

All in all, it looks like we are back to using the Freedom of Information Act for the foreseeable future.


Anonymous said...

I've had the following FOI request outstanding since 6th December! -
"On 23rd December 2008, I received a FOIA request response from the London Borough of Newham (your reference E3273) in which is stated that the difference of £1.76 Million in the two quoted figures for the purchase of Building 1000 is because commissioning costs were not included in the lesser figure.

What company, companies, or persons received the commissioning fee?

When I first chased up a response I was told that the person dealing with had left the Council; now my requests for a response are just ignored (I don't even get the standard f@#k off e-mail).

So it's off to the toothless Information Commissioner!

Anonymous said...

I thought it was the seller that pays the commission on sales.

I wonder if the money has ended up in someones Swiss bank account??

Anonymous said...

For the latest news on Dave Burbage, why not read the current issue of Private Eye, or visit Ventnorblog at

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