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Councils in England are now required to publish procurement spending on items over £500. (I hope that Conservatives in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will push for their councils to do the same.)

While some councils have left it to the last minute the great majority have now complied. However looking down the list on the DCLG website I didn't notice Camden, Ealing, Haringey or Barking and Dagenham on the list. Liverpool, St Helens, Norwich and Tameside are also notable by their absence. But there are 299 councils out of 353 that have now met this requirement. Those that haven't will start to feel the heat not just from the top, with the threat of legal action, but also from the bottom – with their local newspapers and residents asking what they have to hide.

Some have released the data but aren't yet on the DCLG list. For instance, Salford. The Manchester Evening News reports that in December they paid:

  • £1,600 paid to comedy troupe Abnormally Funny People.
  • Spent £10,000 on beer from JW Lees and Heineken.
  • Pollsters Ipsos Mori were paid £20,000 for market research.
  • Paid £34,000 to O2 for mobile phones.
  • The single largest item of expenditure was £2.1m to business consultants Manchester Solutions as part of the Future Jobs Fund job creation scheme.

We read that the Council leader Cllr John Merry "was unable to comment on specific payments" but said:

"I'm not sure this is going to help much in terms of making us more transparent and accountable."

Don't worry, Cllr Merry. I think it's already proving most helpful.

Certainly though the presentation is key if we are to make the best use of the data. Much the most intelligible way I have seen is those councils (including mine) using Spikes Cavell's Spotlightonspend. This allows you to search by category and make relevant comparisons with other councils.

Journalists should have a look at this blog by David Higgerson of Trinity Mirror. He offers several top tips. Item seven concerns "jumping to conclusions." He notes that, for example, Birmingham and Newcastle spend a lot on taxis. As he says this doesn't mean it all goes on "ferrying council officers around." Much of it goes on taking foster children to school. A good point. But this is an item of spending that should be scrutinised as well. It is much better for the children, as well as much cheaper for the Council Taxpayer, for the foster carers to pick up the children from school.

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