Eric Pickles writes on making Councils accountable to voters

Transparency and openness must underpin every decision your council makes for you.

Fifty years ago this month, Margaret Thatcher's maiden speech championed a Private Members' Bill which would ultimately make councils open up their meetings to the press and public. As she argued at the time, 'The public has the right... to know what its elected representatives are doing'. Indeed, local people should be able to hold politicians and public bodies to account over how their council tax is being spent, and decisions made on their behalf.

We are ushering in a new era of transparency, where every aspect of council business is open to democratic scrutiny and an army of armchair auditors can shine a spotlight on waste and unnecessary cost to help protect frontline services.

For too long, Labour let councils spend your hard-earned cash without proper local accountability. For too long, Labour took local taxpayers for a ride.

You wouldn't spend your money without knowing what you were buying - so why let the Government?

With greater power for local councils must come greater local accountability. We are committed to increasing transparency across Whitehall and local authorities in order to make data more readily available to you, the citizen, and allow you to hold service providers to account. I recently called on every council in the country to publish all of their spending data over £500 online - and only Labour-run Nottingham are yet to deliver, with their Labour leader arrogantly saying 'we have much better things to be doing'. What have they got to hide?

Not only will transparency allow you to see where your money goes and what it delivers, throwing open the council books will also unlock the door to new businesses and encourage greater innovation and entrepreneurship.

When the new Government is giving unprecedented power and freedom to councils, it's more important than ever that local residents can keep tabs on what their town hall is up to. We're bringing the full glare of the public's eye onto spending. I invite you to scrutinise where your money goes and help us make sure it is spent on the right priorities. It's time to put the council receipts at your fingertips.

You can see how your council is spending your money by clicking here.

Yours truly,

Eric Pickles
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government


Tim said…
What's the point of local government ? Here in Tory controlled Swale in Tory controlled Kent they can't even get the basics right. Vast numbers of potholes never filled in. One flake of snow and the bins don't get collected for weeks - quite pathetic really.
Chris Whiteside said…
I can't comment on the quality of services in an area more than 350 miles from where I live.

But is it really likely that these services would be more responsive to local people if they were run from Whitehall?
Anonymous said…
"Transparency and openness must underpin every decision your council makes for you."

Chris, how much did Copeland BC pay for the house on the Wagon Road, you know the one below the cliffs that was owned by a Council Manager?
Chris Whiteside said…
I presume you are talking about the property onto which rocks were falling from a cliff owned by the council?

It would have been the council's responsibility to do something about that whoever had lived in the property, because the threat came from land owned by the council.

In the long run trying to stop rocks falling from the cliffs would have been like a much riskier version of King Canute's challenge to the waves.

However, once the purchase was complete there is no good reason not to publish it, either in the council's accounts or within the transparency information which the government now requires councils to provide.

It does not appear to be included on the transparency pages which list expenditure over £500, which this may simply indicate that the purchase went through before this information began to be published.

I am checking whether the statement in the local press that the council has refused to publish the price is correct, and if so why.
Anonymous said…
No doubt the Council paid more than the house was worth, but will they reveal the price paid and any independant valuation?
Chris Whiteside said…
This is not the first time that Copeland's unhealthy culture of secrecy has resulted in people jumping to exactly that kind of conclusion.

Sometimes when it is the exact opposite of the truth but frankly Copeland BC have only themselves to blame.

I am trying to establish why the sum paid for the house has not been published.
Chris Whiteside said…
I am advised that

1) the purchase appears to have been completed in August, e.g. before Copeland started to publish details of all expenditure over £500.

2) The statement that the council was not saying how much it would pay for the house appears to date from before completion of the sale.

For reasons which should be obvious to anyone of reasonable intelligence, the laws requiring councils to publish what they are doing specifically exempt proposed purchases or sale of land and property which are not complete.

If councils had to publish their bargaining position, that would give those who are buying or selling from them an unfair advantage and cost local taxpayers a fortune.

So obviously, it would have been quite wrong for Copeland to publish how much the council was prepared to pay before the sale was finalised.

3) However, now that it is several months after completion, the price paid is in the public domain. You can check it for yourself on any of the websites which publish land registry data on the prices at which property has changed hands, such as

The postcode of the property is
CA28 6AY (note that the address is officially listed as North Shore rather than the Wagon Road.)
Anonymous said…
Chris, in December long after completion, Pat Graham for the Council refused to disclose how much they had paid for the property . Why the secrecy? who knows. Was it 'Best Value'?, again it's all shrouded in secrecy.
Chris Whiteside said…
I have known statements made to local papers which were accurate at the time they were made to be republished months later when they had become completely out of date.

I suspect that is what happened here.

Anyway, if you look at the website mentioned a couple of posts up you will see that the price paid is in the public domain.

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