Dr Benjamin Worthy reflects on the Centre’s recent seminar on localism and local transparency.
One of the Coalition’s flagship transparency policies is now in place. Every local authority in England is publishing all their spending over £500 (see an example local authority here). Some are also publishing a host of other information from salaries to contracts and grants. Our seminar on Thursday discussed how this is developing and what impact it may have on the future.
In late September 2012 the Local Government Association surveyed 128 local authorities to find out what was happening (see here). The first finding was that everyone is publishing spending data, though there is variation in other information being published; 100% of councils that responded published spending data, 96% published salaries but only 54% published details of grants to community groups. There are also various strategies with which this links up – some authorities link it to FOI policy or communication, though some to none at all.
Discussion in the seminar focused on the ‘Armchair Auditors’; the idea, championed by Eric Pickles, that citizens will be the new auditors of their own authorities. Though there are some appearing, it may take time, particular skills and a certain enthusiasm (and stubbornness) to become one and not everyone is convinced. See this example and an interesting comment here.
However, one of the most important developments is not the data local authorities are releasing but the innovations. This can be developments such as Chris Taggart’s Openly Local where you can assess council spending at the push of a button or the wonderful ‘Where Does My Money Go’.
Data also becomes more useful when data is linked to other data. The survey points to some emerging use by community groups and other public bodies, with a great deal of interest in further ‘joining up’ of information across bodies and council boundaries and in the pushing of more innovative developments.
The future is likely to lie with initiatives such as this DCLG experiment where different kinds of data can be linked and made relevant, both for people and policy-makers themselves. These initiatives can move in many unexpected directs from prescription analysis that can save money to this amazing site in India, recommended by an audience member, which enables citizens to report who they paid a bribe to. The future of data is local, linked and may be unexpected.
Thank you to everyone who took part.