Why we need openness and transparency in local government

Often, we are hearing of cases where citizens feel local government is not always as responsive, open and transparent as it should be, yet there is a Transparency Code. Bude & Stratton Town Council, on its website, mentions the code saying:

The local government transparency code is issued to meet the government’s desire to place more power into citizens’ hands to increase democratic accountability. To promote openness and transparency it sets out the minimum data that local authorities should be publishing, the frequency it should be published and how it should be published.

Openness and transparency is something often touted but less often fully utilised. It should be second nature in a democracy to inform the electorate who vote for you about major decisions made spending their money and in their interest. Councils should by their very nature be accountable, not shrouded in secrecy as so many are.

The Code document states:

Transparency is the foundation of local accountability and the key that gives people the tools and information they need to enable them to play a bigger role in society. The availability of data can also open new markets for local business, the voluntary and community sectors and social enterprises to run services or manage public assets.

It adds that:

This Code ensures local people can now see and access data covering:

 how money is spent – for example, all spending transactions over £500, all Government Procurement Card spending and contracts valued over £5,000

 use of assets – ensuring that local people are able to scrutinise how well their local authority manages its assets, like housing

 decision making – how decisions are taken and who is taking them, including how much senior staff are paid

 issues important to local people – for example, parking

One feels that openness and transparency should be exactly and consistently that, not something that has to be doggedly pursued to reluctantly happen. Take the Cornwall Council Cannes trip which somehow cost £46,606.39. Apparently, it was a very useful trip which opened up opportunities for Cornwall, but if this was the case, why not be up-front, open and transparent about it? The information is only now available many months later. For many people, it seems like an expensive trek to a nice resort in the S of France. Was there nothing similar in, say, Bristol?

Bude and Stratton Council is also not immune from opaqueness. For example, I am still awaiting a reply from the Acting Town Clerk to an enquiry I made on 28th September. This should not happen. If no answer is forthcoming, then a polite email saying that is simply good manners.

Alas, clarity is something local authorities do not seem to readily sign up to. The right words appear on the websites and lip-service is paid but in practice, it means very little.

Here in Bude/Stratton, it is great that the Mayor, Bob Willingham, is telling us via social media about events and happenings in the area in a bid for openness and transparency, but actually, the council website should have information covering all of the more political information above. In de-politicising the electorate, it is no surprise that interest in elections and meetings is underwhelming, with many councillors co-opted rather than elected as they should be.

Just my opinion. Your comments are most welcome.


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