Thursday, 29 September 2011

The lights are going on all over England: but not in Broken Barnet

Barnet Council responds to Eric Pickles call for greater transparency

Update 6.30pm and 3oth September, see below:

Oh dear, naughty, naughty London Borough of Broken Barnet, yet again ... in trouble with Uncle Eric - what are you like?

On Monday, the Barnet bloggers wrote to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about the obstructive, anti-democratic practices here in Barnet which the local authority is imposing in flagrant defiance of Eric's drive for greater transparency and accountability: obviously Uncle Eric is a big fan of the Barnet bloggers, and listens to our advice, and now look at the press notice he issued this morning ...

Read it carefully, Mr Cornelius, Councillor Coleman, and Mr Walkley, and then each of your write Mrs Angry a 5,000 word essay on "why I must try harder to make Broken Barnet one of Mr Pickles' best local authorities', and stop being such a fucking embarrassment to the government".

Thank you.

Pickles hails next wave of council transparency

Published 29 September 2011

The next wave of council openness was hailed today by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles as he published the final Code of Recommended Practice for council transparency which will help reveal the fine details of authorities' daily business, including senior salaries and contracts.

Already every council in England except Nottingham City Council publishes data on all their spending over £500 on a regular basis.

Ministers believe that data transparency should extend beyond local spending and that full disclosure should be every council's default position. Councils will now be expected to have regard to the Code in all their data publications. Subject to consultation, ministers are minded to make the Code a legally binding requirement to ensure authorities can be held fully accountable to the local people they serve.

The code of practice calls on local authorities such as councils and fire and rescue services to shine a light on every part of their business, from employees' salaries over £58,200 and details of all their contracts and tenders to details of grants to voluntary organisations, performance information and the locations of public land and building assets. It also establishes three key principles behind council transparency; timeliness, openness and mindfulness of local demand.

Releasing this information to the public could provide a wealth of local knowledge and spark more improvements in the way services are delivered. Faster publication and easier access for the public and companies could open new possibilities for real-time analysis and response and opportunities for small businesses to enter new markets.

The best local authorities have already adopted the code of practice into their normal publishing routines. Councils like Northamptonshire County Council, Hammersmith and Fulham and Windsor and Maidenhead for example have long ago thrown their books wide open for public scrutiny and publish much of the data specified in the code already.

Eric Pickles said:

"We have always maintained that the best local leaders, those with control of the public purse strings, should be open and accountable for every one of their decisions. We have abolished top down inspection making local accountability more important than ever. Central Government has a role in ensuring that local people can exercise their right to know how their money is being spent and have the information they need to question that spending.

"But spending data is just one aspect of transparency. There is a wealth of information on the inner workings of councils across the country - from senior salaries and council assets to everyday decision making processes - and we shouldn't have to be data experts to see and understand it.

"The code sets out clear expectations. It will help unlock more information and increase accessibility for everyone, taking us one step closer to our ambition to be the most transparent government in the world."

In June the Prime Minister wrote an open letter to the Cabinet outlining what the Government has achieved in terms of transparency over the past year and what it intends to do over the next (see link right).

In the spirit of transparency the Department for Communities and Local Government has already released a vast amount of its data, including spending figures, contracts, Ministerial data and organisational information. We will continue to lead the way, and are publishing all 229 responses to the consultation on the Code of Practice today.

Notes to editors

1. The Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency applies to England only. Local authorities, including councils and fire and rescue services, will be expected to comply with data protection law and to take a risk management approach to payment fraud. (

2. The Department consulted on the Draft Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency from 7th February 2011 to 14th March 2011. Consultation Summary and all responses to the consultation can be found at:

3. The Code asks local authorities to follow the three principles of transparency when publishing data - Demand-led, Open and Timely. The Code also proposes the minimum datasets that should be released for reuse.

They are:

  • expenditure over £500, (including costs, supplier and transaction information)
  • senior employee salaries, names, budgets and responsibilities of staff paid over £58,200 - equivalent to the lowest Senior Civil Service pay band
  • an organisational chart
  • the 'pay multiple' - the ratio between the highest paid salary and the median average salary of the whole of the authority's workforce
  • councillor allowances and expenses
  • copies of contracts and tenders to businesses and to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector
  • grants to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector should be clearly itemised and listed
  • policies, performance, external audits and key inspections and key indicators on the authorities' fiscal and financial position
  • the location of public land and building assets and key attribute information that is normally recorded on asset registers
  • data of democratic running of the local authority including the constitution, election results, committee minutes, decision - making processes and records of decisions.

4. The Code is published under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, which gives the Secretary of State the power to issue a code about the publication of information by local authorities about the discharge of their function. The Act also empowers the Secretary of State to introduce subsequent regulation should that be necessary to enforce greater transparency.

5. Details of local authorities' publishing spend data can be found via the Local Directgov council expenditure over £500 search tool (see link right).

6. The Department for Communities is leading the way across Whitehall and Local Government by publishing a wealth of information including spend (see link right).

Comment later, as Mrs Angry is off to enjoy the localised sunshine that is pouring down like honey over the blighted wilderness of Broken Barnet. x

Updated: 6.30pm

Well, yes, thank you, Mrs Angry had a nice wander around Kenwood with her friend, and had the usual women's rambling, pointless, what is the meaning of life conversation, as we always do, listening to the parakeets and risking concussion from the nuts dropping like bullets from the oaks and chestnut trees. Very nice. And talking of nuts, while we stopped for tea, Mrs Angry checked her phone and found someone had emailed her the funniest ever story about Councillor and deputy Barnet Tory leader, Daniel 'John' Thomas. Obviously she rushed home, yawn, and read the following article with vast amusement.

John Thomas has been talking to something called 'Public' about the letter to Eric Pickles sent by the Barnet bloggers on Monday. It seems the Barnet Tories are a little windy. Are they worried that Uncle Eric might diss them again at the Tory Conference? Oh, surely that's just a nasty rumour?

Thomas wants people to think that Barnet is a shining beacon of localism in action and a marvellous example of transparency and accountability. He says:

'... we are committed to open government as well as responding to freedom of information requests in a timely manner."

Thomas said one of the bloggers had submitted a total of 175 FoI requests between April and September of 2011. This meant a total nearing £40,000 was spent by the council responding to this one individual, based on a typical cost of £225 in dealing with each request.

Thomas went on to say that Barnet council "completely rejects complaints about lack of transparency around the One Barnet programme". He said there had been "numerous cabinet reports, a full debate in council and the agreement of the One Barnet framework last October".

Goodness me. Let's not mention the fact that without the Barnet bloggers, and their use of the FOI act, none of the staggering revelations of MetPro would have been brought into the public domain.

Let's not ask the Labour councillors and LibDem councillors, especially Lord Palmer, what they think about the amount of transparency surrounding the One Barnet programme. Or what happened to the One Barnet scrutiny committee, for example?

As for the naughty blogger Councillor Thomas is badmouthing, we must let him speak for himself, but Mrs Angry reminds Mr Thomas that even if this ludicrous accusation was true, by such obstinate behaviour, daring to demand the answer to awkward questions about the disgraceful, furtive, incompetent and self indulgently wasteful activities of Barnet Council, he is only costing residents as much as Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers, the Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer, (you know, who didn't spot the massive procurement, payment, monitoring, tendering and contractual balls up we unearthed), as much as he earns in - forty days. And whereas Mr Travers is paid £1,000 a day, and the first thing that Councillor Thomas and his colleagues did when elected was to vote themselves a whopping pay rise, your bloggers here in Barnet do everything they do as armchair auditors for NO pay at all. The Big Society in action, here in Broken Barnet. A ruthless drive for efficiency, and better services for less money.

No need to thank us, Councillor Thomas. You're very welcome.

Update 30th September:

Mrs Angry sends very few FOIs, as it happens - although they do have a habit of remaining unanswered, which is odd, and quite vexing - but this morning she felt moved to send the following, just in case Mr Mustard was busy:

"Good morning, Mr Lustig:

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Act:

A copy of any correspondence between Councillor Daniel Thomas and any council officer within the last four weeks regarding the number and cost of any FOI requests.

I have been specific as to the time period, as, in my relentless drive for efficiency, I am always keen to avoid unneccessary cost.

Yours as ever,

Mrs Angry"


baarnett said...

I say, is that the young John Hart, helping his Mum with the blackout?

(You do realize the 'lights going out' quote came from the first world war, by the way?)

Mrs Angry said...

yes, thank you, baarnett, I do, but good of you to keep Mrs Angry on her toes.

In the blackout (yes, second world war) my granny, (no, not the one sold off by Brian Coleman this week), was taken to court for showing a light, and fined five shillings.She was very ashamed. And now her grandaughter is trying to undermine the blackout in Broken Barnet.