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Nottingham could be only council not to release spending data

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Martin Rosenbaum | 16:30 UK time, Monday, 7 February 2011

According to the Communities and Local Government department, there are eight councils in England which have not yet complied with the ministerial demand that they publish details of all items of spending over £500. However one of these authorities claims that CLG is wrong and it has issued the information.

The CLG website contains a list of 346 authorities that have released the data with links to their sites. For some reason the website doesn't actually identify the few which haven't - but the department says they are Nottingham, Bradford, Peterborough, Epsom and Ewell, Hyndburn, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Eastbourne and Lincolnshire.

This is not so much naming and shaming, as shaming by not naming.

The BBC has contacted the eight councils involved. Nuneaton and Bedworth maintains the material has in fact been available on its website for about three weeks.

Bradford, Hyndburn and Peterborough say they will publish it during this week. Eastbourne, Epsom and Ewell, and Lincolnshire say they will do so by the end of February.

If this happens that will leave Nottingham as the only local authority determined to resist the government's request. The council's deputy leader Graham Chapman said:

"We have said that we will publish accounts over £500 if it becomes a legal requirement to do so. We are happy for information to be transparently available for public scrutiny but feel that the time and money needed to implement this change is wasteful and a distraction at a time when we are coping with £60million of cuts in government funding. The government talks about localism but as this issue shows, it seems intent on interfering at every opportunity."

If Nottingham is the only council maintaining this stance, it will be interesting to see how it withstands the pressure and inevitable accusations of secrecy.

The CLG statement was released as part of the next stage in the local transparency drive being pursued by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.

He has today launched a consultation document on a new code of practice on local authority data. Councils could now be asked to issue an organisational chart with the names and responsibilities of staff paid over £58,200, which is equivalent to the lowest pay band for senior civil servants.

The draft code also refers to releasing datasets on contracts, councillor expenses, voluntary sector grants and the democratic running of the council.

Some local authorities will be happy to follow this agenda, but there are others who will not be pleased by some of those proposals.

Several councils have already made it clear that they regarded the publication of the spending data over £500 as a bureaucratic exercise with little practical benefit, and they may well be unenthusiastic about these further demands.

This unease featured in an earlier CLG consultation which asked councils for details of what they considered to be unnecessary administrative burdens. Under freedom of information the BBC has obtained from CLG a copy of the summary of responses [68KB PDF].

This report identifies 13 councils with concerns about issuing the spending data. It also names 49 councils who complained about the level or nature of enquiries stemming from the Freedom of Information Act. (The document gives a figure of 52, but this is an error due to double-counting).

However by far the most common protest from authorities was about the data they have to provide to central government, and how they are audited and inspected. There were 152 councils with objections to the monitoring requirements they are subject to.

Some councils however apparently had more unusual complaints about the administrative burdens imposed on them. These included bonfire regulations (raised by East Devon), the out-of-hours stray dog service (Harborough), and the requirement to have four-year election periods (Gravesham).


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