London’s Labour-controlled councils are far behind Tory and Lib Dem ones in transparency, new data shows. In the summer, the coalition announced that all local authorities would be required to publish online all their expenditure over £500 in a format accessible to the public. They have until the end of this month to do so.
So far, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government, 20 of London’s 34 councils say that they have complied. (Another two councils, Hounslow and Haringey, also appear to have complied, but are not shown on the DCLG list.) The overwhelming majority of those which have not done so are Labour-controlled.
All London’s Lib-Dem controlled councils and three-quarters of the capital’s Tory authorities have published details of their expenditure. However, only half London’s Labour councils have published details.
Requiring the publication of these details was not only democratically right – it was politically smart. It allows us to compare how much different councils are paying for the same things. It lets us judge much better the quality and the wisdom of each council’s spending.
It allows us to evaluate whether councils have genuinely eliminated waste, whether their inevitable cries of anger about evil Tory cuts decimating frontline services are justified, or whether there are other things that could be axed instead. The speed of the data’s publication may also tell us something about the quality of management at each council.
It might be cheap to say that all these are reasons why Labour councils seem so much warier of openness than the others – but that’s what people are going to say if they don’t get a move on. There can be no other reasons for not publishing.
Previous governments have preferred heavy-handed, centralising and bureaucratic instruments to hold councils to account. That was not only democratically wrong – it is not Whitehall that councils should answer to, but their voters – it also imposed real costs and inflexibilities of its own. If this data dump is done well, it could be revolutionary. We won’t need meddling, overpaid Whitehall civil servants any more – we’ll just need a lot of citizens, journalists, and bloggers with laptops.
Full list of London councils and their publication status (as at 3 Jan 2011)
Tory-controlled (9 out of 12 have published their spending data)
Barnet, Bromley, Greater London Authority, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hillingdon, Kensington & Chelsea, Richmond, Wandsworth, Westminster.
Have not yet complied: Bexley, Croydon, Havering.
Lib Dem-controlled (2 out of 2 have published their spending data)
Labour-controlled (8 out of 16 have published their spending data)
Brent, Camden, Enfield, Haringey, Hounslow, Islington, Southwark, Waltham Forest.
Have not yet complied: Barking, Ealing, Greenwich, Hackney, Harrow, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham.
No overall control (2 out of 2 have published their spending data)
Others (1 out of 2 have published their spending data)
City of London
Has not yet complied: Tower Hamlets.