The Nottingham Post reports that Labour-run Nottingham City Council is to start publishing its spending. Indeed it is to publish all spending items, rather than only those over the £500 threshold. This is excellent news for residents who will now have a chance to scrutinise its spending. They will be able to consider whether the decision to raise Council Tax by 3.4% this year was really justified – given that it was already well above the national average.
Conservative opposition leader Cllr Georgina Culley said:
"This is the most embarrassing U-turn ever. What has made them change their mind?
"I believe they have spent the past 18 months getting rid of information they didn't want to come out.
"They've spent that time tidying up their accounts and now they're ready to publish them.
"This is an embarrassing backtrack."
Ian Curryer, the acting deputy chief executive, said the change was due to "sharing financial functions with another council" and that this meant that it would be possible to "publish all spending data at little or no cost."
"The council hasn't backtracked on this issue."
Clearly it has. Before they claimed that "the sheer volume" of data would make it "harder to find useful information" if they published their spending.
Furthermore why is no Labour councillor prepared to speak about the change in policy? Forcing a council officer to defend this political position is quite unfair and cowardly.
Cllr Graham Chapman, the Deputy Leader of the Council, was previously thrashing around trying to find any excuse to keep the spending secret. He said it was "clear" that there would be a substantial cost in making the information available. Keeping spending secret was best as to publish it "obfuscates more than it illuminates."
Publishing spending means councils "risk publishing personal details which breach the data-protection legislation." There "are issues of principle" as telling residents how their money was spent would be "centralist."
Most alarmingly, publishing spending might "solicit further enquiry" from the more impertinent Council Taxpayers.
Lest there was any doubt Cllr Chapman concluded emphatically:
When the the law is enacted we will comply and do so with good grace, but until then Mr Pickles will have to wait.
Council got a taste of transparency last week when the Taxpayers Alliance published their league table on councillor allowances. Nottingham City Council pays a basic allowance of £11,581.68p. Of the 435 councils in England this payment is the 23rd highest.