Industry, Technology and Politics
Edited By Alec Charles
James Morrison Armchair Auditing and the Great Town Hall Transparency Swindle
Britain’s coalition government has preached an awful lot about local trans- parency. Within weeks of the Conservatives entering their uneasy alliance with the Liberal Democrats in May 2010, the new administration’s Pooterish Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, had already earned a reputation as its most hyperactive minister – firing of f a volley of press releases promoting initiatives to make town halls more accountable. English councils would not only need to learn to budget more ef ficiently (in the face of Whitehall- imposed revenue cuts of up to 40 per cent) but, for the first time, we tax- payers would be able to scrutinise their every invoice (up to a point), by assuming the mantle of ‘armchair auditors’ as they unleashed exhaustive monthly lists of all items of spending worth £500 and over. Not content with embarrassing spendthrift councils over their osten- tatious catering contracts or luxurious of fice furnishings, Pickles was also quick to announce crackdowns on the more dubious means by which they took spending decisions and made information public. First he announced plans to allow them to abandon the secretive cabinet meetings ushered in by the Local Government Act (LGA) 2000, which had enabled senior councillors to take costly policy decisions with neither press nor public present (Dale 2010). Then came a pledge to stop them publishing ‘glossy’ magazines and newspapers or ‘town hall Pravdas’ at public expense – in so doing, eating into the profits of the provincial press at a time when it was already buf feted by...
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