Councils to publish data on spending over £250
16 August 2012
By Matthew D'Arcy
Councils across the country will soon be asked to release details of all their spending over £250, it has emerged, taking transparency requirements a step further from the £500 level already adopted by most local authorities.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles
confirmed yesterday that his central government department would be the first in Whitehall to publish spending data to this level, a move he said would help to cut the risk of fraud and improve transparency.
It has now become clear that town halls will be expected to follow suit.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) told Publicservice.co.uk that new guidance was due to be issued to local authorities in the near future which would ask them to meet the new level of transparency.
Details of the extension to councils were also confirmed by local government minister Bob Neill. In an interview with the MJ, Neill said the £500 transparency threshold had been in operation "for some time" for nearly every council and that ministers were now proposing to "go down to £250".
"The lower you can get the threshold, the more information is out there for the public," he told the magazine.
But the Local Government Association said the release of such figures was "meaningless" without context.
"It's hard to see how the publication of more raw data will actually improve transparency, or indicate whether or not councils are providing value for money," a spokesman said.
"DCLG seems to be pushing ahead without the evidence base called for by the Public Accounts Committee, which demanded a proper assessment of the costs and benefits of publishing raw data."
Councils were originally asked in 2010 to publish spending data on items above £500. This level was eventually met by nearly all councils, with the exception of Nottingham City Council
, which refused to commit resources to publishing data at the same time as dealing with significant funding cuts.
The £500 level is however now set to become law for councils under new guidance from Whitehall.
A spokesman for Nottingham told Publicservice.co.uk the council was aware the government planned to issue new guidance and that it would be considered when received.
Other councils have taken proactive steps ahead of mandates from central government. Housing minister Grant Shapps
tweeted about how Monmouthshire County Council was publishing "every single item of spending online: from £0 upwards".
In the case of DCLG, publishing additional spending data is not expected to come at any additional burden to the taxpayer.
"There was no cost to the department lowering its spend threshold from £500 to £250 as the systems were already in place," a spokesman told Publicservice.co.uk. "The public has a right to know how central government is spending its money."