By Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Last year, my Department and its associated bodies spent more than £650 million: more than £10 for every man, woman and child in the country. But until yesterday, if you had wanted to find out exactly how that money had been spent, you’d have had to jump through all sorts of hoops, and know your way around the Freedom of Information Act. Now, for the first time, you can go to my website (link) and see exactly what was bought, for how much, and from whom, for all procurement over £500.
Not only does the public have a legitimate ‘right to know,’ this greater openness and transparency is absolutely critical to root out waste and inefficiency. It means that people can ask questions about how their hard-earned cash is being spent. They can draw their own conclusions about whether that offers value for money. And they can suggest different ways of doing things. We need to look at every penny being spent, at every level of Government, and getting the data out there will really help do this. It will bring an extra layer of scrutiny to public spending and make sure that public servants treat public money with the respect it deserves.
And that’s just as important for local government. That’s why I’ve been asking councils to ‘show me the money’ by putting their own spending over £500 online. More than 25 authorities including Bromley and Richmond have already done this. Local residents and the local press can then see exactly what the local council is up to.
It’s a simple step which will drive smarter spending. Together with moves to improve procurement practice and share service, it will help councils to save millions of pounds; money which can then be used to protect the essential frontline services that the public rely on. When times are tight, the public rightly want to make sure that their council tax is being used to collect the bins, support the elderly and vulnerable, keep the streets clean and run excellent schools. If council figures show that those services are being squeezed while the council continues to shell out on taxis and lunches, then the public will soon make their views known. This sort of local accountability, with the council reporting to residents instead of me, is both far more democratic and far more effective at actually driving change quickly.
But I need to be able to look local government in the eye and it’s only right that I get my own house in order. Just in the first couple of months, I’ve been able to identify £32 million worth of saving this year. Now an army of armchair auditors will be able to suggest other areas where CLG can save money. I hope they’ll soon be able to click on council spending too.