How will ‘armchair auditing’ work?

7 October 2010
So, Eric Pickles from the Communities and Local Government department says all councils and fire authorities must publish online their spending data over £500 before the new year. Public scrutiny of the data in the form of ‘armchair auditors’ is being championed. Transparency is the name of the game and if it helps local authorities to take a look at each other and make good buying decisions as a result, great. The Local Government Association has published guidance on the format and type of data that must be uploaded. The hope is that once all data is aggregated, long-time gains can be obtained in the form of benchmarking. Councils can be compared to establish where the positive spends occur as well as the not so positive. The question I ask is, what will people do when faced with this raw data? I doubt it can tell them anything at all about what it going on. It will be close to meaningless, I fear. How will the armchair auditors know what value spend in a particular area will bring? What criteria will they use to establish whether a particular spend was wrong? Could irate calls from ill-informed members of the public jeopardise future spending decisions? Will good value decisions be under threat because of misplaced outrage? And what of the time and energy that goes into answering questions about spending decisions? Will the new rules in the short term prove a distraction from the work of procurement? As always, time will provide the answers. In the meantime, please drop your answers into an email-sized postcard.
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