A new online search engine has been launched which shows local taxpayers when they can inspect their council's detailed financial spending and ledgers as part of greater public transparency.
Every council is required by law to make its accounts available to the public for 20 days a year. This includes every invoice, payment and receipt registered in the council's ledgers. It applies to all expenditure, not just amounts over £500.
So even the obsessively secretive Labour council of Nottingham will have to allow Council Taxpayers to go through the books. The chance to do so is between August 1 and August 26. Please let me know what you spot.
For my council I see the books have been open for inspection since July 11 and will remain so until August 5. If anyone is willing to go along and find some ways we could be saving money that would be much appreciated. We regard transparency as an opportunity. Nottingham see it as a threat.
To help residents and armchair auditors to find out when they have a right to inspect, an online search engine has been published setting out the open day period for over 280 councils. Ministers have said they would like to see all councils sign up to the catalogue. Accounting rules have already been amended to require councils to publicise these little known rights to inspect.
For the majority of taxpayers the window of opportunity to see these documents is open now or due to begin shortly. Mr Pickles is urging citizens not to miss out on the chance to view their councils' and fire and rescue authorities' books.
Eric Pickles said:
"Transparency is the foundation for a strong local democracy. It strengthens the hand of citizens by opening up the processes that show where their council tax goes. It helps councils do more for less, protect frontline services and save taxpayers' money.
"For the next few weeks, Town Hall ledgers across the country are open to the scrutiny of armchair auditors. Every concerned citizen should use this opportunity to dig into the intricacies of their council's coffers."
Every council, except, Nottingham City Council, now routinely publishes its spending over £500 online. Mr Pickles added:
"These rights complement online transparency. It is disappointing that one local authority is still failing to publish its spending online. I urge the press and public to exercise their legal rights to inspect Nottingham's books on the day they make their accounts available."
Nottingham Council says it is still refusing to be open about its spending because "it doesn't improve public understanding of what their council is spending money on."