Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quote of the Day

"University is free at the point of use to the student, and graduates face an income-related payroll deduction when they start earning. Labour should be loudly cheered for bringing in the system and bashed around the head for its complete failure to get across to the public that this is how it works."
- Lord Browne

It's totally true, the public do not understand how it works, the state will even lend you money for living costs! The current government really needs to hammer this point home as they implement Browne recommendations.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stratford District Council Officers and the Transparency Agenda

At this morning's Stratford Business Forum Breakfast Paul Lankester, Chief Executive of Stratford District Council, spoke and detailed some of what the Council were doing to reduce their costs given the current and future budgetary pressures on them. All good stuff you'd think but then he moved on to talk about the transparency agenda that is being driven by the Department for Communities and Local Government, and it's head Eric Pickles MP.

For those that don't know DCLG are forcing Councils (and they really are having to force them) to publish all of their expenditure over £500 on their website. The idea is that this level of transparency on spending will make them think twice about what they spend money on, how much they spend and even if they need to spend it in the first place. If officers know that Mrs Smith at no 22, or even the Stratford Herald, can see that the council is spending £5,000 on renting meeting rooms at a Race Course for example they may think twice about if it's necessary.

What was Paul's view on this, remembering that he is the Chief Executive earning £107,574  for managing about 300 staff, well he said "I believe that all Council spending over £500 will be online today, for anyone sad enough to want to look". In one line he told you everything about what he, and presumably his team think about this powerful agenda to open up government at all levels.

But he didn't stop there he went on to talk about Freedom of Information Requests, stating that only 10% of them come from local residents and that the remaining balance come from journalists and special interests groups, no doubt alluding to the excellent TaxPayers Alliance, who are well known for their FoI requests. He made a good point about the resource requirements to deal with them, however the obvious response is that if data is routinely made available internally anyway then they shouldn't need 3 or 4 staff dealing with them.

Ultimately though what is wrong with anyone, be they a local resident or an interested body, or journalist having a right to information, a right to question what a public body is doing and a right to challenge them on it? Before FoI's particularly ones made in the area of finance the media and hence the public had no real way to know what public authorities were spending or doing with their tax money. Perhaps Mr Lankester has forgotten that he runs a public body and spends tax payers money not his own.

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