Pickles tells councils to get on with publishing spend data

Eric Pickles reminded councils in England and Wales the other day that he expected them to publish details of all external spend items over £500 by the end of January.  Less than half have already done so.

I caught up with Luke Spikes of Spikes Cavell, the market leaders in helping councils analyse, manage and publish their spend data; in many cases, published through the Spikes Cavell 'managed service' website "Spotlight on Spend".  Over 30 councils already have their data available there with 50+ on the way.

I asked him whether he thought there would be a big rush to get data out by the end of this month?

"There are a lot of councils who are in the process of publishing. Often it is the final clearance from senior officials or members that holds things up, but we do expect to see many more publishing at the end of the month - or not long after".

But he identifies a couple of issues which may delay full disclosure.

"Some I suspect will say that they intend to publish but they have other urgent priorities; such as working out how to live within their reduced budgets.  And frankly that may be a fair stance to take just at the moment.  Most of those will get round to it later in the year though".

Does he think any are going to ignore the requirement completely?

"I expect some - probably just a handful - to challenge Pickles and basically just say they're not doing it" .

Of course, the government has something of a dilemma; it has talked about freeing councils from Whitehall dictat and bureaucracy, and more localism, so a council may feel that ignoring Pickles is just demonstrating that local freedom!

The reaction from the centre to that sort of challenge will be interesting to observe.  Maybe it will come down to genuine local interest in those cases.  If a non-publishing council gets bad press, and is bombarded with Freedom of Information requests, then perhaps they may change their minds.

But how useful is all this data going to be? Spikes also believes that many councils will publish, but the data won't be in the 'recommended' format; for instance, pdf rather than than open files.  That makes it harder to analyse; and there's the question of whether it tells us much even if it is accessible.  There's  a long way to go on this topic still...

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