19 November 2010
The details of all government spending over £25,000 were
published today as part of the coalition’s transparency and efficiency drive.
The online database shows all
Whitehall transactions above this amount between May, when the coalition came
to power, and September this year. Some departments, including Communities and
Local Government, have published details of all spending over £500.
The move is part of a government push to encourage ‘armchair
auditors’, to scrutinise spending in place of watchdogs such as the Audit
Commission, which is being abolished in 2012.
But Colin Talbot, professor of public policy at Manchester Business
School, described the intention as ‘fairly fanciful’. ‘You will get armchair
nitpickers and nutters... Certain individuals will go on about their particular
bugbears,’ he told Public Finance.
He was sceptical that ordinary people would have the time or
resources to deal with the wealth of data. ‘An awful lot of this is going to be
either irrelevant or will take a lot of digging to put into context and uncover
what it’s all about... The chances that Joe or Joanna Public is going to be
able to do any serious work with this is pretty nonsensical,’ he said.
Publishing the data, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude
said he wanted the UK to have the ‘most transparent and accountable government
in the world’. He added: ‘I want the public to hold us to account for what we
do – and by publishing this data today, taxpayers will be able to see exactly
how we spend their money. This will not always be easy but we expect the public
to hold our feet to the fire and make sure that not a penny of their money is
Departments will now publish the data on a monthly basis
while local authorities will be required to publish all spending over £500 from
One hundred councils have already done this, it was also
announced today. Local government
Baroness Hanham said: ‘We are already
seeing how useful public data
can be in everyday life, from moving home to choosing schools. The public have
a right to see what their tax money is doing.’
Talbot added that the main problem with understanding how the
government spends its money because Spending Reviews, Budgets, finance reviews
and departmental accounts are presented in different formats, making it
‘impossible to track through spending decisions’.
He added: ‘It’s impossible for serious analysts to understand
what is going on with public finances in the way we would want to.’