Saturday, 16 May 2009

Time to shine the light on town hall, government and MPs’ spending

Calls to increase openness and accountability in spending of taxpayers’ cash

Giles McNeill today gave his backing to new plans to increase openness across local government, Whitehall and Parliament – to help rebuild the public’s trust and confidence in politics, and to ensure proper accountability for the way their money is spent.

• Under a national Conservative blueprint for local government, councils – including Lincolnshire County Council and West Lindsey District Council – will be required to publish online details of all expenditure over a set limit, detailing all payments for goods and services. This has already been done by Boris Johnson in London’s City Hall (publishing information on items over £1,000) and by Conservative-run Windsor & Maidenhead (publishing figures over £500). This would bring one of the biggest shake-ups to town hall accountability since Margaret Thatcher championed a Private Member’s Bill in 1960 which forced councils to open their meetings to the press and public.

• This greater transparency and accountability would help reduce wasteful expenditure, saving taxpayers’ money. Both local residents and local newspapers could scrutinise this new information, creating a new citizen-led financial discipline on local government.

• At the same time, there should be greater openness in central government. Under new Conservative plans for a ‘People’s Right to Know’, every single item of central government spending over £25,000 and all public sector salaries over £150,000 would be published online. Furthermore, as part of a package of measures to clean up MPs’ expenses, all claims made to the Parliamentary Fees Office would be published immediately online as they are made.

Giles said:
“Almost fifty years ago, Conservatives made councils hold their meetings in public. This transformed local government for the better. In the twenty-first century, we should go further and use the power of the internet to shine the light on public spending and help improve value for money. Greater openness, in both local and central government, is vital to help restore the public’s trust and confidence in our political system.

“At a time when the public finances are so tight, every penny counts and openness will impose a citizen-led financial discipline to West Lindsey District and Lincolnshire County Councils, Whitehall departments and Parliament. The public should have a right to know how exactly their money is being spent.”

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