Thursday 19 July 2012

For Second Year, Newham Council Breaks The Law on Citizens' Inspection Rights

For the second year running, Newham council has broken the law by failing to publish on its website the details of the period when the local electorate has the right to inspect its draft accounts under the Audit Commission Act 1988.

Every year, for around 20 days, local people have the right to see detailed contracts, invoices, receipts, and bills, make copies and raise points of interest with the district auditor. Since October 2010, this has included the right to examine local authority contracts, including those relating to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contractors. There are many local campaigners who would find this last requirement extremely useful.

From March 2011, every local council has been required under Regulation 10 of the Act to place a copy of the statutory newspaper notice, the one that is usually buried in an obscure corner of the Newham Recorder, on the authority's own website, at least 14 days before the public may examine the documents and files. As I pointed out last year, Richmond-upon-Thames council was forced to revise its inspection period because the original was illegal, as it had failed to comply with this (then) new regulation.

 Inspecting the real detail of council spending is one of the few powerful tools available to us as citizens, so we can find out how public bodies are spending public money. But guess what – transparency-averse Newham council, who failed to comply last year, has failed all over again in 2012.

Apparently Newham's period of inspection opened on 2 July and continues until 30 July. However, I have checked and as the screen shots taken this morning show, there is no record of the legal requirement for a statutory notice on its website, which may explain why so few people will even know about their rights.

If anyone wishes to inspect the council's original documents – and PFI contracts will be fascinating to examine – then they are currently able to visit between 10am and 4pm at Newham Town Hall on Barking Road. If you want to inspect particular documents, arrange that in advance by calling 020 3373 0694 or emailing

Meanwhile, would someone from the London Borough of Newham care to explain why it has failed to understand the new regulations, why it has failed to publicise an important citizens' rights on its website – and whether, when facing the possibility of a judicial review, it plans to now comply with Regulation 10 and restart the inspection period from a future date?


Not only has Newham council failed to publish a notice on its website at least 14 working days before the start of public inspection, but it didn't even manage to get a notice onto page 11 of the Newham Recorder until 20 June - only 8 working days beforehand. Anyone want to guess how much of a council priority it is to publicise the public's right to access?

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