This weekend at Conservative Spring Forum I heard several mentions of Nottingham Council,who have refused to publish their spending over £500. Web-enabled transparency is something politicians on all sides (myself included) have highlighted as a way of overcoming the lingering suspicion of politicians following the expenses scandal, as well as engaging the public in the challenges of dealing with the deficit.
One example of the power of the internet and transparency being combined was the Treasury’s ‘Spending Challenge’ webite before the spending review, engaging the public in the budget making process and generating more than 100,000 ideas.
Following this lead, Kirklees council set up it’s “Your Voice” website to crowd source ideas prior to the budget being passed by council. A very welcome step. Sadly it seems, the reality of the councils’ approach to web communication and transparency doesn’t seem to have reached all areas of the organisation.
Sadly, you still can’t read the budget itself though. Head to the council website budget page and you’ll find 2010’s figures. I emailed the council on March 1st and, six days later, was told that the budget was not available online - but it was available in soft copy at six libraries across the district. Furthermore, the official told me “I have been informed that at this moment these particular budget documents are not going to be available on the intranet.”
The cost of putting these paper copies in libraries far exceeds the cost of putting PDFs online - not least given the effort put in to the pre-budget digital engagement. Seeking the public’s input is laudable before the budget is set, but a cynic might suggest that to deny the public the detail of council spending decisions is a far more concerted way to undermine ongoing civic and democratic engagement.
in this day an age, it is ridiculous for such crucial documents of public record and interest not to be available online almost immediately.
It looks very much like Kirklees Council want to have their cake and eat it - criticising the Government’s reduced funding without wanting to tell anyone how much money it spends on publicity, hospitality and back office costs. In other words, exactly the things it should be cutting before a penny is taken away for the front line. Sadly the political point-scoring by Labour councillors clearly comes before protecting front-line services and their commitment to transparency.
Perhaps it is time for the Freedom of Information Act to be extended to include a legal mandate on publication online?
Categories: Electoral Reform, Government IT, Political campaigning, Spending Cuts
Tags: budget, e-Government, Kirklees council, local government
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