Councils urged to publish spending


Eric Pickles called on local councils to open their books to public scrutiny

More than half of town halls have yet to comply with government demands to throw open their books to public scrutiny.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles called on councils six months ago to start publishing itemised spending online from September as part of the coalition’s transparency drive.

But still only 144 out of 354 English local authorities have released the information. The rest have until the end of January to meet the Government’s deadline.

A code of practice incorporating the requirements on transparency about spending is to be published shortly.

Officials said it could be made binding, in which case residents would be able to take enforcement action against authorities which refused to comply.

Councils are being asked to publish details of expenditure on all goods and services – from car hire to consultancy fees – of more than £500.

Also to be published online are senior salaries, councillors’ expenses, minutes of meetings and data on service provision like rubbish and recycling rates.

Mr Pickles criticised the “slowcoach” councils which had not yet published the information. “In 2011 I would like to see every council make their New Year’s resolution to cut more waste and fully open their books up to public scrutiny,” he said.

He added that local authorities had until the end of January before people would wonder “what they’ve got to hide”.

“One hundred and forty four councils have shown they’re not afraid to be transparent and I applaud them, but that’s less than half, the slowcoach councils only have a month to go before serious questions will be asked about what they’ve got to hide. Openness is an essential part of a proper modern democracy. The taxpayer has a right to see where their money is being spent, to point out waste and decide local priorities.”