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Whitehall spending: Information overload

Mark Easton | 13:15 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

"Come on. Unleash hell!" The foul-mouthed political schemer Malcolm Tucker from TV satire The Thick of It once responded to a crisis by demanding that officials release huge amounts of government data. "Stats. Percentages. International comparisons. Information. E-mail them... wads of information."

Too much information

When a helpful source in the Cabinet Office forwarded me the enormous files of data on Whitehall spending publicly released today, I stared at page after page of numbers and realised what is meant by the phrase "information overload".

How the solitary look-outs in David Cameron's "army of armchair auditors" are supposed to spot waste and to replace the professional quango scrutineers currently awaiting their P45s is a very real question.

Nearly 200,000 lines of data listing the details behind £80 billion of government expenditure is both intriguing and daunting. But to even begin to make any sense of it, I needed expert help.

With just a few days before today's publication, savvy colleagues worked day and night cleaning, sorting and crunching the data - the kind of effort unavailable to most households. Indeed, my rather outdated spreadsheet software was simply not powerful enough to open the Whitehall master file we built to get an overview of state spending.

Once the initial work had been done, I dived into the figures to see what pearls lay hidden in the dark mud of government spending.

I think it is interesting to note that Prince Charles received two payments from the government this summer - one for £667,000 covered the rent for Dartmoor prison and the other for £677,000 was from the Army, presumably so they can drive their tanks on his land in Cornwall.

Is that good value? Could a better deal be negotiated? Is it right that a Colonel-in-Chief and Royal Colonel of many Army regiments should expect such payment?

The data poses more questions than answers.

I can now tell you that the Treasury and the tax office between them paid £123,000 for copies of the Financial Times this summer. Sounds a lot of pink. But is it money well spent?

The Government Equalities Office spent £4,846 bringing a Swedish radical feminist over for a conference. The government car service received payments totalling £1.5m in the first five months of the coalition including £123,000 from the Department of energy and Climate Change for "Ministerial support". JobCentre Plus spends more than £200,000 a month on hotels. Should I be shocked?

Among the smaller items I spotted were:
  • £1,265.22 to diamond dealers De Beers
  • £650 to chic handbag designer Lulu Guinness
  • £1,500 to Estelle Earpiercing for "scheme management"
  • £1,000 to a company which makes jewel-encrusted dog collars

The last one seemed so bizarre I tracked the firm down to its headquarters in the Netherlands. The money apparently was from the Department for Business, a grant to help Diamond Dogs sell their wares in New York. If the trip drummed up lots of new orders for their Koh-i-noor pet accessories, it might have been a very sensible investment. The company pays tax in Britain, after all.

Not everything is transparent in the files. The Department for Business spent a total of £241,000 on dozens of items including hotels and air-fares but described only as "personal expense, name withheld".

I spotted a number of payments from the Ministry of Justice to eight individuals who turned out to be the victims of miscarriages of justice. In total the payments came to £2.2m: no small change and, I would have thought, just the kind of detail required to hold the executive to account.

Among the recipients were Paul Henderson, former Managing Director of the arms supplier Matrix Churchill which was caught up in the arms-to-Iraq scandal of the mid-1990s that engulfed John Major's government. He received £583,810 in June this year.

Another of the eight was also linked to the arms-to-Iraq affair. Paul Grecian, former head of the military supplier Ordtec, received a payment of £627,734 in June this year.

I rang the MoJ for an explanation only to be told that they have withdrawn this section from the online data drop. But having been supplied with this information by the government, I can reveal the names of the other recipients of MoJ cash this summer.

Terence Pinfold, now 77 years old, is a convicted robber who subsequently spent years in prison for "procuring a murder". It later emerged he had been stitched up for that crime and this summer Justice Secretary Ken Clarke sent him a cheque for £328,327. Amanda Jenkinson, a former nurse from Nottinghamshire, was wrongly convicted of causing GBH with intent by interfering with a patient's ventilator in 1993. She has just received a cheque for £400,000. Joseph Kassar was wrongly convicted of smuggling hundreds of kilos of cocaine into Britain in 1992, drugs hidden inside lead ingots. He has now received compensation worth £100,000. In other miscarriage payments, Sean Hodgson received £100,000; Hussain Shah received £100,000; Christopher Finch received £25,000.

The fact that this detail has now been withdrawn from the online data illustrates the limits and complexity of the transparency idea.

The Ministry of Defence rang the BBC to say that within the pre-released files sent to journalists and developers was a line about payments relating to Libya that we should ignore. There will no doubt be many more howls of anguish from officials as people scour the numbers.

What will happen now? Francis Maude has admitted that "the data is not as good as it should or will be", hinting that we will get even more detail and context. Equally, there will be voices suggesting the whole idea is far too dangerous and should be scaled back.

The real danger, I think, is that people mistake transparency for accountability.


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  • 1. At 1:29pm on 19 Nov 2010, MaggieL wrote:

    What dates do these selective items relate to? Surely you're not trying to give the impression that these payments and contracts are all the responsibility of the 6 month old Conservative Party?

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  • 2. At 1:42pm on 19 Nov 2010, watriler wrote:

    Dispensing with the Audit Commission is truly throwing the baby out with the bath water even if the water is very dirty. At least the NAO has been retained to keep an eye on central government. Professionals are needed to analyse the spending of public bodies to sort out the bizarre from the inefficient and the cock ups. In local government there are worrying questions about District Audit in largely private hands not being independent of their 'clients' and the Audit Commission is the only body that can tackle serious conflicts of interest at local level. It will be more information but less understanding and accountability!

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  • 3. At 2:10pm on 19 Nov 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    I can see one of two tracks emerging....

    Data overload renders it all worthless.

    Endless 'why are the staying in 4 star hotel, when theres a 3 star hotel down the road' supposed 'scandals' drives everyone in government into paralysis.

    With the miscarriage of justice issue you raise an imporant point: rather than trivia, big savings would often need something rather more sophisticated and strategic.

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  • 4. At 2:34pm on 19 Nov 2010, Turbulent_Times wrote:

    I agree there is a need for independent scrutiny, though the current utility of the likes of the NAO have to be questioned - what actually results in the audit processes undertaken by the NAO? Job Centre Plus accounts not being signed off being a case in point. The lack of substantive analysis on efficiency initiatives that make cross-annual comparisons and measure effectiveness, is a glaring issue - how do you know if Government departments are operating at greater efficiency from one year to the next? Moreover, the lack of central action to problems raised by an independent audit undermines the whole process in the first place. This is the real fudge between transparency and accountability.

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  • 5. At 3:05pm on 19 Nov 2010, recrec wrote:

    Of course this is overload! It is a total waste of time, effort and money. I remember a long time ago, watching the files for my local council's audit committe going into the committee of three. I asked, in my innocence, if they could check them all. No, came the reply, we rely on internal audit to pick up anything significant - but it gives the concillors something to look at!

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  • 6. At 3:26pm on 19 Nov 2010, Daisy Chained wrote:

    The only reason it may be information overload is that it is not intended to do what it says on the tin.

    It is crude data, described as such on the Government website; yours to make of what you will, as a government minister sits gormlessly smiling into the distance thinking "What did you expect punter? We make it easy for you?".

    Just as happened with expenses, parliamentary gossip is always loads of hot air so the real deal goes unnoticed.

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  • 7. At 3:50pm on 19 Nov 2010, corum-populo-2010 wrote:

    Mark Easton's blog "Whitehall spending: Information overload"

    Certainly not. The more information on Whitehall spending available to the public the better.

    In fact, all local government/local councillors spending should be more accessible too in an open and plain english format.

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  • 8. At 4:15pm on 19 Nov 2010, Alex wrote:

    Give it a chance, we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the concept before we've had a chance to see what people do with the data.

    While going through the data line-by-line looking for individual cases will probably be left for journalists or people with lots of spare time there are other things that can be done. I'm personally looking forward to the trend analysis and interesting visualisations/exploration tools that will come out of the open data crowd. A lot of people have been waiting for this level of data and I'm sure the tools to cope with it will quickly mature now there is live data to chew on. There are also tools available to help clean-up the data like Google's Refine.

    Let's hold off on the post-match analysis until the players have at least had their 90 minutes to play </end of tortured analogy>.

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  • 9. At 4:17pm on 19 Nov 2010, MattWasp wrote:

    Sorry, I like this. There's so many ways of spinning official spending stats that giving people (journalists) the raw data is the only way to generate independent challenge.

    Once we get past the shock-horror stories I think (well hope) we'll see some rather more effective correlation / analysis / investigation from our media

    Of course I'd like to see more - data only really makes sense when you can see it in totality but this is a pretty impressive - and politically brave - first step

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  • 10. At 4:40pm on 19 Nov 2010, TheGingerF wrote:

    Gimmicky policy from a gimmicky PM. Can't wait for some independent bodies to use this data and then the Torylition to complain that they haven't done it right or misunderstood or anything so they can still stick by their cut cut cut idealogy.

    Lets see the radical policies in Health, Education, Law and Order, Foreign Policy, real stuff, rather than this pitiful attempt.

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  • 11. At 4:46pm on 19 Nov 2010, kaybraes wrote:

    This is a total waste of time, data without context or explanation. Perhaps some of this wasted cash should have been spent on an independent (not one of the usual establishment head nodders) auditor/ watchdog with the power to call someone to account and with the power to remove from office anyone misusing public funds.

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  • 12. At 4:54pm on 19 Nov 2010, Policywatcher wrote:

    It may be true that many people mistake transparency for accountability.

    Transparency is indeed not the same thing as accountability.

    It is however a pre-requisite for it.

    The idea that you can have accountability without transparency is a logical absurdity, since without transparency, it is impossible ever to demonstrate whether or not the claims upon which accountability is based, are accurate or not.

    Accountability without transparency is a claim that the egg is fresh, without letting anyone see into the shell.

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  • 13. At 5:01pm on 19 Nov 2010, WolfiePeters wrote:

    • £1,500 to Estelle Earpiercing for "scheme management"
    • £1,000 to a company which makes jewel-encrusted dog collars

    What kind of people run our country?

    Giving out this data is definitely the way forward. I'm sure the under-secretary will think twice before he signs off another totally unjustifiable expense. We want to know who spent the money and who authorised it?

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  • 14. At 5:03pm on 19 Nov 2010, Policywatcher wrote:

    At 4:15pm on 19 Nov 2010, Alex wrote:

    "I'm personally looking forward to the trend analysis and interesting visualisations/exploration tools that will come out of the open data crowd. "

    Spot on, Alex; the time to discuss whetehr or not this is information overload is AFTER people have the kind of data interpretation, visualisation and analysis tools needed to make sense of it.

    Crying "overload" just because there is a load of raw data is a mindless plea for the return to "the good old days" when politicians lied to us as a matter of routine, and we had no choice but to accept it blindly.

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  • 15. At 5:31pm on 19 Nov 2010, dinosaur wrote:

    This is a huge opportunity for creative rebranding - watch out for chains of "Flophouse" hotels and "Meagre Meals" restaurants opening soon!

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  • 16. At 5:33pm on 19 Nov 2010, Tim wrote:

    The real problem with the release of this data is that, out of tens of thousands of lines, and £80 billion pounds of expenditure, Mark made personal enquiries about a £1000 payment to a small business. The trivia-obsessed media now has all the trivia it could ever have dreamed of: the important stories in this data will be drowned out by howls of indignation about the odd dog collar and ear piercing, which, in the scheme of things, are so inconsequential that only an imbecile would be concerned about them.

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  • 17. At 5:39pm on 19 Nov 2010, bintheredonethat wrote:

    Someone needs to look at IT spend. The Environment Agency, for instance, spent £10m on IT in July, August and September. Might be information overload, but at least its available and you can then use Freedom of Information to get the detail.

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  • 18. At 5:45pm on 19 Nov 2010, lacplesis37 wrote:

    Though the Audit Commission had its weaknesses, it provided a systematic check on local authorities. It shouldn't be confused with the national Audit office (is that being axed too?) which covers central government & is also patchy in its effectiveness - but because the Permanent secretaries get hauled up before the Public Accounts Committee, it tends to get treated very seriously. I'm all for openness - but there are real risks with divulging so much information. (a) it's difficult to see the wood for the trees (b) lack of underlying information makes it difficult to know whether the spending was justified or not (c) obsessives will pick up on relatively small/essentially trivial areas of spending and involve a lot of civil servants' time in dealing with it, when they've got better things to do (d) it may inhibit the sort of risk-taking & experiment that the government says it wants in the civil service: e.g. suppose I reduce my staff numbers by 50% saving £2m a year through adopting an entrepreneurial approach & decide to reward remaining staff for a year of exceptional stress but also greatly improved customer service by taking them away for a day to a hotel for team-building and thsnks & I spend £1500. I risk being pilloried as a spendthrift.I may choose the safer option of making my 15% cuts in the usual way by doing a bit less less well & just letting the minimum number of staff go. That way I'm doing a much worse job for the taxpayer, but I've maintained my low profile.
    The problem with information is that it needs to be full, in context and strategic. I fear that this is designed to enable the government to save the cost of the Audit Commission & get blame for spending passed on to civil servants/local governemtn officials rather than the politicians who take the decisions that cause the expenditure.

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  • 19. At 6:58pm on 19 Nov 2010, rBBCiD wrote:

    I agree with 'Policywatcher'. Regardless of whether it's useful right now for a journalist's headline, it needs to be a matter of public record for the future. If specific questions about the data accumulate over time they could be listed too, along with their answers.

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  • 20. At 7:18pm on 19 Nov 2010, corum-populo-2010 wrote:

    Mark Easton's blog: "Whitehall spending: Information overload".

    Absolutely not. The more information about Whitehall spending, and ALL government spending, the better!

    'Ordinary' people are entitled to view all these figures being published and easily available to puruse, and examine, as time allows.

    It's certainly NOT for journalists to decide whether the public can 'cope' with this information or not. This information is long overdue to be available in the public domain.

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  • 21. At 7:23pm on 19 Nov 2010, jaydubya1 wrote:

    Diamond dog collars and handbags? Information without context is not only unhelpful it can be downright misleading. I think Government-watchers and lambasters will have a field day.

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  • 22. At 7:32pm on 19 Nov 2010, WolfiePeters wrote:

    As Tim @ 16 rightly points out, it's easy to pay too much attention to a £ 1,000 grant to a small business. Though some might argue that it may be a lot of the small sums that produce the large waste.

    In fact, the support for diamond (or Swarovski as I don 't imagine £ 1,000 goes very far with diamonds) encrusted dog collars is intriguing. Now, I'm all in favour of the UK exporting just about anything to anywhere - we desperately need to. But, I'm very much aware of how difficult it is for a UK business, especially one in manufacturing, to obtain any support from UKGov no matter what the immediate or potential advantage to the UK. I just wish this particular UK or Dutch business would tell the rest of us how they did it. Are they managed by an ex-banker?

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  • 23. At 8:24pm on 19 Nov 2010, JeremyP wrote:

    "The real danger, I think, is that people mistake transparency for accountability."

    I.E. We are stupid. Thank. Classic BBC

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  • 24. At 8:27pm on 19 Nov 2010, JeremyP wrote:

    2. At 1:42pm on 19 Nov 2010, watriler wrote:

    Dispensing with the Audit Commission is truly throwing the baby out with the bath water even if the water is very dirty. At least the NAO has been retained to keep an eye on central government.

    Whilst spending a FORTUNE on itself. The last boss live high on the hog on the proceeds of the rest of us.

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  • 25. At 8:28pm on 19 Nov 2010, timbo12 wrote:

    It would be interesting to know exactly what the Quango scrutineers achieved, to justify the salaries they were paid.
    I wonder if and when we will see a before and after table of Quango costs. My money is on little or no difference, All that seems to have happened so far, is inquiries and select committees being set up.

    David Camerons form so far regarding his personal photographers and spinners does not bode well, for reducing the taxpayers burden of government sponsored freeloaders.

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  • 26. At 9:00pm on 19 Nov 2010, Simon wrote:

    Now will people start to see what the Audit Commission actually did. Not only did they have to deal with this volume of data, but to ensure it was all correctly accounted for and spent in accordance with law.

    Plus they also had the necessary powers to bring people to book for doing things wrong. The 'Armchair Auditors' can howl all they like, they have no teeth.

    Best of all, the Audit Commission didn't cost anything to run, as it was required BY LAW to run at a break even based on the fees it charges councils and NHS bodies.

    The private sector aren't going to charge less (as they need to make a profit which the AC didn't) and the audit work is still required BY LAW. Adding on top all the redundancy payments and you start to see how much scrapping this particular quango will cost.

    I strongly suggest that someone take a look at Mr Pickles past if you want to see why he's getting rid of the AC. It makes for interesting reading.

    Lastly, some functions of the Audit Commission until a couple of years ago were run under a separate group, District Audit. I think you'll find that they've existed since 1840 and no government, however frugal, thought it made sense to get rid of them.

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  • 27. At 10:01pm on 19 Nov 2010, TheGingerF wrote:

    But Simon that just doesn't make for good Quango bashing headlines now does it.

    Its a great wheeze - get amateurs in who will quickly tire of it and stop looking.

    I heard today that there was even some suggestion they might try the same lark with flood defences. Dont just do it, B&Q it - is mdf waterproof?

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  • 28. At 10:06pm on 19 Nov 2010, CharlesRJ wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 29. At 11:25pm on 19 Nov 2010, terailover wrote:

    Two things completely unrelated maybe:
    1. I suspect there are a number of Reggie Perrins out there selling Grot products to the government at inflated prices and who will continue making a packet with or without all this additional Whitehall data
    2. Accountability is surely not just a measure of a person or organisation's ABILITY to keep ACCOUNTS it's their willingness to give an account of what they have been doing and why.

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  • 30. At 11:27pm on 19 Nov 2010, splendidhashbrowns wrote:

    Thank you Mark for an interesting blog which, despite the tabloid headlines provokes some useful questions about how we wish to be governed.
    Clearly, the amount of raw data is designed to be intimidating. Any questions raised by you could receive any explanation from Government to suit, so you will NEVER know the truth.
    Any embarrasing items will simply be lumped together under a different heading in future eg. misc expenditure.
    Humans understand how much £100 or £1000 is but not how much a million or a billion so their attention is naturally drawn to the smaller amounts.
    Doesn't this really come down to HONESTY?
    We have seen the dishonesty portraid by our MPs and members of the Lords in recent exposes. They tried very hard to get the figures hushed up.
    Now we read in todays (Fri 19 Nov 2010) paper that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will not publish MPs receipts because it wouldn't provide value for taxpayer's money!
    Nothing, it would appear, has changed in the Palace of Westminster!

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  • 31. At 00:33am on 20 Nov 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    A $1,000 dollar dog collar when students don't have pencils, erasers and paper at school. That is criminal!

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  • 32. At 00:41am on 20 Nov 2010, Tony00Z wrote:

    I'm afraid the data is corrupt!
    I've only had a cursory glance, but, for example, if you filter down to the Dept Family of "Wales Office" you will see that many of the items are duplicated, the only difference being the date format (mm/dd/yyyy as opposed to dd/mm/yyyy).
    This begs the question: have these suppliers been paid twice or have we only spent £40bn and are, therefore, out of the mire!!

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  • 33. At 01:07am on 20 Nov 2010, Maia wrote:

    Are you implying the miscarriage of justice victims were paid too much? If they were imprisoned, which must be hell, for a few years, that doesn't sound extortionate. Consider what you can get for a little light 'defamation' or libel, or what people who were possibly passed over for promotion at work get; also consider, they need to make up for a decade of life, during which they might well have had children, bought a house and car, taken two degrees; it seems reasonable.

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  • 34. At 01:24am on 20 Nov 2010, davidm wrote:

    Mark, well done-another good piece. you are right to be sceptical - along with the john Lewis partnership / mutuals in government idea, and the Big Society idea, and measuring happinesss, this risks being another way of politicians absolving responsibility and accountability ahead of making cuts to services and jobs and by softening up public pinion by stories of waste - getting their revenge on those who leaked Parliamentary expenses data.

    Who is going to manage to hold government to account for extra costs for trident because of delays because the tories dont want to upset the libdems by forcing it through? and will we see a cut in govt spending on publicity/advertising, even in the run up to the next election? or the amount wasted every time the nhs is re-organised? Mr Maude anounced this release of data indicating it would stop 'casual' spending in the public sector -so please see if you can find any such spending or if the govt admits to any that has been happening on its watch

    here's an idea to increase uk happiness - stop all govt announcements of new policies for 1 month a year

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  • 35. At 01:34am on 20 Nov 2010, angryecologist wrote:

    The government of a G8 nation releases raw spending data and you complain that there are rather a lot of numbers. What did you expect? Five columns in an Excel spreadsheet?

    Just because most people who work in the media couldn't stand maths and science at school doesn't mean you can tell everyone else that a rabbit-in-the-headlights reaction to numbers is the right way to act. You never know, some bright Economics student might decide that downloading the freeware R, learning how to use it to interrogate data and writing a thesis on reducing public spending inefficiencies in order to fund university education is a better idea than kicking in the windows at Tory Towers.

    Or not.

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  • 36. At 06:45am on 20 Nov 2010, AlMiles wrote:

    Very strange to see BBC News saying that government departments have published their accounts for the first time. In fact they've been published every year for many years (Resource Accounting was brought in by Ken Clarke, with accounts audited by the NAO and laid before Parliament and public for over a decade now.) All this data, and more (not just limited to £25,000+ payments as in the "transparency" review) is available from Freedom of Information requests anyway.

    Sad to see the media falling for a Cameron gimmick.

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  • 37. At 06:49am on 20 Nov 2010, AlMiles wrote:

    #31 "A $1,000 dollar dog collar when students don't have pencils, erasers and paper at school. That is criminal!"

    Try reading the article - it says it was a grant to help the business expand into New York, not purchase of a dog collar. I bet students have pencils, too. I hope they read as well as write!

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  • 38. At 07:04am on 20 Nov 2010, Daisy Chained wrote:

    It amazes me how the amateur sleuths come out, doggedly determined to find the grains of gold in this great sea of data. You have been had; there ain't no gold. What there is, amongst the obvious, are the potential gateways to something bigger, and more interesting. The payment that looks okay, smells okay, but is as crooked as they come.

    Who do you think is putting this stuff together?

    Who do you think will pull it apart?

    Who do you think will be spotting the real clues?

    Yes Mark you are right - it is crafty overload.

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  • 39. At 07:27am on 20 Nov 2010, davidm wrote:

    ps much the same debate accompanied the release of the COINS data on govt spend on 4 June -we were told that beyond the initial media headlines there would be all sorts of interesting analysis to follow by independent experts who'd been calling for its publication. bbc asked for armchair experts help 'Coins data now published: Please help us analyse it'.
    So what did they and the bbc all find out, please?

    pps the main benefit is likely to be more caution in spending taxpayers money due to possible greater scrutiny - which has also been happening due to anticipated cuts. It will be interesting to see whether like Paliamentary expenses, scandalous items are found, or not.

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  • 40. At 1:23pm on 20 Nov 2010, Theunis Viljoen wrote:

    BIOLAP has details of more than 100 Councils' payments to suppliers over £500 on its free Council Expenses Dashboard at -

    Users can slice and dice, compare and sort the data as well as drill through to underlying transactions.

    BIOLAP is a BI Consultancy practice specialising in Planning, Analysis and Reporting solutions.

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  • 41. At 12:01pm on 23 Nov 2010, DibbySpot wrote:

    This is not accountability. That was provided by the Audit Commision that was disbanded by this Government.

    The data was desinged to create Armchair Auditors - nice idea of elderly accountants with nothing better to do than run over the Govt figures!! The start of the Big Society maybe.

    However, this central government openess needs to be followed by every government entity Police Authorities (how much do all those BMWs actually cost), Country Councils and others. Sadly, the perversion of tagrtes will not be found in these figures. Creative procurement will see the numbers fudged.

    Bring back this openess and the Audit Commision to shine a light on the encompetence at the heart of government and the public sector.

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  • 42. At 11:02am on 24 Nov 2010, andie99uk wrote:

    What a great way to say "Well, all the information was in the public domain" and then wash your hands.
    This stinks to high heaven of a cover up without covering anything.
    It reminds me of the Email that said on 9-11 that "today was a good day to bury bad news", but by doing it with such outlandish bravado, the Con-Dems hope to really pull the wool over peoples eyes, whilst at the same time telling you that you have all been to specsavers...

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  • 43. At 2:52pm on 24 Nov 2010, LanceM wrote: is a good place to get the raw data but not the analysis. Rosslyn Analytics, a non-consultancy technology company that specialises in spend analytics, has since mid 2010 provided government data to the public in easy to use, drill down analytics. Analysis made easy. To view the latest batch of expenditure data, please visit or
    Kind regards,

    Lance Mercereau
    Rosslyn Analytics

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  • 44. At 2:09pm on 27 Nov 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    Whitehall spending: Information overload.
    This is what some Governments call: BS baffles brains, or
    give them enough fodder and they will soon give up.
    Meanwhile, we - the Government - have released all the information that we had to present...but NOT ALL THE INFORMATION THAT WE KNOW!
    All Government financial programs come with allotment numbers, department numbers, code numbers for the type of purchase and of course, cost.
    All Government prograns have additional programs (called search programs)that bring forward items that exceed allotment, push allotment or departments over expenditures allowed and/or have dubious pirchase for that particular department. This, my friend, is the information that you really want: the dubious!
    When requesting Government accounts (in Canada), one asks for financial transaction EXCEPTIONS, then stand back and watch the twitching, side-stepping and other financial contortions because most Government sneek some items into transactional codes where they do not belong.
    "Information overload" is only information overlaod when you have need to fine tune your request for spending information. In the process, you may encounter what accountants call sloppy accounting, which should have been snagged (by computer) and corrected by a supervisor or an accountant.
    Nearly 200,000 lines of data listing the details behind £80 billion of government expenditures I'm going to guess could be condensed into 2,000 lines or less IF you asked for the coding anamolies only. As I said in another sibmission, Treasuries and Governments rely on "daunting"; they rely on the little folk being too buzy to unbaffle the really baffled.
    Of course you need expert help, but would you need expert help on say 2000 lines?
    Next time, don't let Whitehall send its master file; that's just a dumb to keep you happy. Ask for the allotment, department, financial transactions codes that appear "mis-allocated".
    The data is available for download from Excuse me, my friend, whatare you trying to do overload my compiter, freeze it till afrter Christmas?
    If you want the pearls, get some expert advice in requesting the pearls and the pearls only.
    Under what coding for example did these fine Government folk code £123,000 for copies of the Financial Times this summer.
    How were these smaller items coded. Belief it or not the coding can tell you source, as in what department, what Government person did the requesting:
    • £1,265.22 to diamond dealers De Beers
    • £650 to chic handbag designer Lulu Guinness
    • £1,500 to Estelle Earpiercing for "scheme management"
    • £1,000 to a company which makes jewel-encrusted dog collars
    How many times have I insisted here and in other articles that audit is as necessary to the health of governments as a medical check-up is to the health of any person.
    I loved this statement: "Ministry of Defence rang the BBC to say that within the pre-released files sent to journalists and developers was a line about payments relating to Libya that we should ignore." I'll bet you looked doible-hard, am I right?
    People don't mistake transparency for accountability because they wouldn't recognize concise transparency if they saw it. You can bet that Cameron doesn't get the dumb you got on his desk. Transparency means timely, clear, concise and unbefuddled.

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