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Council spending - making it clear

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David Holdsworth David Holdsworth | 11:33 UK time, Thursday, 12 May 2011

Local Authority services

Today we launch the results of a substantial research project analysing information supplied by more than 260 local authorities across England about how their spending plans will impact on public services in their areas, following the Government's Spending Review process.

We have undertaken this survey because we know that people care passionately about their public services - and because the BBC has a duty to explain what is happening, what the choices are for local authorities and how they have made them. Only the BBC can do this kind of work because only we have a network of local reporters serving radio, TV and online, spread across England whose job it is to explain what is happening in their localities and to hold locally elected councillors to account for the decisions they make.

But with that unique position comes responsibility. We have to make our explanations clear and readily understandable for our viewers, listeners and online users. We need to make sure that we present the information in a way that not only tells a compelling story, but that the story we tell is accurate, fair and above all, impartial.

So in launching our survey today we have worked with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) to map the effect of the new spending round on public services, using data that the councils themselves have verified. The survey was based on CIPFA's SeRCOP* service expenditure breakdown which is used by a variety of organisations, including the Government, to assess what local authorities spend. Every local authority in England was surveyed between 9th February and 28th April 2011 -

Some people talk of cuts, others of savings but the reduction in local budgets has been a regular narrative through 2011. This survey provides audiences with a snapshot of how each local authority intends to implement its savings using a direct comparison with last year. Our local radio teams, alongside regional and network TV colleagues will be assessing the story and context behind those figures to see how each council is coping in this new financial climate.

Whether the resulting stories are about library closures, reductions in Chief Executives pay, a slimming down of administration costs, outsourcing of services, or closure of some services, we'll be telling the stories that matter to communities.

Our audience research tells us that the BBC's independence is a foundation stone of public trust and it is one we will not jeopardise. Fundamental to that independence is political impartiality and with our survey today we strive to present a true picture of public services in England - as they are and without the gloss of political varnish.

It might ruffle a few feathers, it might spark some lively debate, but above all I hope it will help inform you of the choices your council is making about how your money should be spent.

* The CIPFA Service Reporting Code of Practice (SeRCOP) replaces the previous Best Value Accounting Code of Practice (BVACOP) from 2011/12.

David Holdsworth is Controller, English Regions

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