Mark Wallace of the TaxPayers’ Alliance salutes Windsor and Maidenhead Council’s decision this week to publish the details of all expenditure over £500
The last fortnight has been a good time for transparency in local government. The Conservatives’ local government green paper made an excellent pledge to publish full details of council expenditure, including senior staff pay and perks, and then on Friday the Government partially followed suit, announcing that they will make councils publish the full remuneration details of senior staff.
This is not just a victory for the TPA, which has long been campaigning for greater transparency in public expenditure and specifically for the publication of executive remuneration (as seen in our annual Town Hall Rich List). It is a victory for anyone who believes that taxpayers should have the right to see how their money is spent, and anyone who thinks that transparency is the best form of accountability.
A policy of ‘Google Government’, where the default position for information about public spending is that it should be public rather than the current policy by which everything is by default kept secret until revealed by a luck Freedom of Information Request or Parliamentary Question, would be groundbreaking. It might be easy to forget but the Freedom of Information Act was one of the greatest improvements in the power of the people to hold the State to account in recent decades. True transparency, where everything is published as standard, would be an even bigger leap forward – and there is no reason why it cannot or should not be done.
Whilst the recent outbreak of openness has fairly suddenly seized the
leadership of the two main parties, a special mention must go to the
Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead for becoming the first council
in the country to actually become fully transparent. I attended their
Budget Meeting at Maidenhead Town Hall on Tuesday night to welcome the
passing of a policy that commits the Borough to publish every single
item of expenditure over £500.
This is an exciting – and revolutionary – step forward. For a start, it
shows that local councils have it within their power to start throwing
open the doors of local government right now. We have heard a lot of
good promises, first from George Osborne and then from the Shadow Local
Government team about Google Government and passing power to the people
by publishing these details on the internet, but national policies have
to wait for an election victory to be implemented. Given that the
Conservatives are the largest party in local government, we should
really be seeing Conservative councils around the country forging ahead
with these ideas of their own accord.
Happily, Windsor and Maidenhead have set the pace by introducing this
transparency pledge, and other councils should follow suit. There are
certainly a lot of councillors out there who believe energetically in
true localism, and this is a real world way of giving the people
meaningful power to hold their councils to account. Sadly, there are
some councils – such as Kent County Council, who almost seem to revel
in their refusal to obey even the limited scope of the Freedom of
Information Act – who view the taxpaying public as more of a nuisance
than a group whom they exist to serve. Whilst as with any transfer of
power from the state to the people there will be bastions of arrogance,
stubbornness and obfuscation, hopefully plenty of other councils will
see the right and the benefit in what Windsor and Maidenhead have done
and follow suit.