Whitehall should face the same transparency demands as councils

1 July 2011

1 July 2011 | Adam Leach

Central government departments should be subject to the same rules concerning spending transparency as local authorities, according to the Local Government Association.

Councils have to publish details of all their purchases above £500, but their counterparts in central government are only required to disclose spending above £25,000.

"It can't be right that the spending disclosure limit for government departments is higher than the average annual wage,” said outgoing chairman of the LGA, Baroness Eaton. “A pound is worth the same whether it is spent by the town hall or Whitehall and the public has every right to know how civil servants are spending their taxes.”

Research by the LGA found 12 of the 21 government departments – including the Cabinet Office, which sets out the demands – were not reporting purchases above £500. In contrast, only one of the 375 councils in England and Wales did not.

Explaining the different transparency thresholds, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office, said: “We have intentionally been bolder and more radical in local government, as local transparency is replacing top-down central inspection. Councils are now subject to less Whitehall interference – but in return, there should be even greater local accountability to the local press and public. We are already the most transparent government ever. But there is more to do: we want to publish more types of open data, and publish it in a way that can re-used for the public good and be scrutinised more easily.”

The departments that do publish purchases of £500 and above are: The Treasury, the Department for International Development, the Department for Transport, Government Equalities Office, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Wales Office, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

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