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Council finances briefly open

Martin Rosenbaum | 10:34 UK time, Friday, 4 July 2008

If you want to get really detailed financial documents from your local council, there is a much more powerful tool than the Freedom of Information Act - but blink and you may miss the chance to use it.

It's the Audit Commission Act in England, which gives you the right to see the accounts and all the accompanying financial documents for the council's audit. In Scotland it's the Local Authority Accounts (Scotland) Regulations 1985; in Wales the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004; and in Northern Ireland the Local Government (Accounts and Audits) Regualtions (NI) 2006.

But it only applies for a short period each year. You've got to know when that is, and strangely enough councils don't seem to give it enormous publicity.

Now the Orchard News agency has peformed the valuable service on its website of collating the relevant dates for many different councils.

This is a rarely used public information right. Some time back I produced a documentary for Radio 4 about access to information with my colleague Michael Crick. When as part of it he visited his local council Wandsworth in south London to look at their audit documentation, he found that he was only the second person to have done this in fourteen years.

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