Norfolk councils fall foul of transparency drive

Norfolk councils are falling foul of a government transparency drive by failing to publish their spending over �500.

Three Conservative-run councils have not posted their spending online for months, in contradiction of a policy from local government and communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Mr Pickles ordered English councils to release a list of their spending on all items over �500 after the government came to power in 2010.

The figures are supposed to be posted on the councils' websites every month, giving taxpayers a better idea of where their money is going.

But over the last few months Norfolk County Council, Broadland Council and Waveney Council in Suffolk have stopped publishing the data.

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The last time the county council put its spending online was in October while Broadland and Waveney are five months behind.

Norfolk County Council, which makes around 10,000 transactions a month, said a 'technical issue' had led to the delay and their computer technicians were now trying to fix the problem.

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It said: 'We want to be as open as possible and this isn't as timely as we would like.'

Broadland Council said it had collected the information but the person responsible for putting it online did not know it was ready due to a 'technical glitch'.

It said it was now changing the way the information was published to make sure it did not happen again.

A spokesman for Waveney Council said: 'We fully endorse the importance of transparency in all financial matters and appreciate the value and benefit of publishing this data on our website. Unfortunately, we have been frustrated by delays relating to the introduction of a new transactional system.'

The government views publishing council spending as a central part of its 'open data revolution' and Conservative MP for Norwich North Chloe Smith, who was elected on a wave of anger over the secrecy surrounding MPs' expenses, said: 'It is important for this kind of information to be available so that people can hold councils to account.'

Government guidance states: 'Data should be published unless there is an overriding reason not to. This means that councils should be asking, what's the most they can publish, not what's the least they have to do.'

The guidance says the figures should be published monthly as soon as possible after the month ends.

After being alerted by the EDP, Waveney, Broadland and Norfolk councils said their latest spending figures would be updated on their websites as soon as possible.

All other Norfolk councils had published their spending for November with Norwich City Council releasing its December figures.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said: 'Transparency can help save money and protect front line services, by cutting waste and unnecessary costs

'Ministers have made clear that transparency and openness should be the underlying principle behind everything councils do.

'Councils' spending decisions affect the day to day lives of each and every local taxpayer, so it is essential to a healthy democracy that full and regular disclosure should be every council's default position.'

Robert Oxley, campaign manager of the TaxPayers' Alliance, told the EDP: 'Taxpayers might forgive councils for missing their publication dates on the odd occasion but serious delays will damage the transparency of local authority spending decisions. It's important that taxpayers are able to scrutinise how their money is spent.'

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