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Mark Wallace: Windsor and Maidenhead Council sets the pace on transparency and openness

Mark_wallace Mark Wallace of the TaxPayers' Alliance salutes Windsor and Maidenhead Council's decision this week to publish the details of all expenditure over £500

The last fortnight has been a good time for transparency in local government. The Conservatives' local government green paper made an excellent pledge to publish full details of council expenditure, including senior staff pay and perks, and then on Friday the Government partially followed suit, announcing that they will make councils publish the full remuneration details of senior staff.

This is not just a victory for the TPA, which has long been campaigning for greater transparency in public expenditure and specifically for the publication of executive remuneration (as seen in our annual Town Hall Rich List). It is a victory for anyone who believes that taxpayers should have the right to see how their money is spent, and anyone who thinks that transparency is the best form of accountability.

A policy of 'Google Government', where the default position for information about public spending is that it should be public rather than the current policy by which everything is by default kept secret until revealed by a luck Freedom of Information Request or Parliamentary Question, would be groundbreaking. It might be easy to forget but the Freedom of Information Act was one of the greatest improvements in the power of the people to hold the State to account in recent decades. True transparency, where everything is published as standard, would be an even bigger leap forward - and there is no reason why it cannot or should not be done.

Whilst the recent outbreak of openness has fairly suddenly seized the leadership of the two main parties, a special mention must go to the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead for becoming the first council in the country to actually become fully transparent. I attended their Budget Meeting at Maidenhead Town Hall on Tuesday night to welcome the passing of a policy that commits the Borough to publish every single item of expenditure over £500.

This is an exciting - and revolutionary - step forward. For a start, it shows that local councils have it within their power to start throwing open the doors of local government right now. We have heard a lot of good promises, first from George Osborne and then from the Shadow Local Government team about Google Government and passing power to the people by publishing these details on the internet, but national policies have to wait for an election victory to be implemented. Given that the Conservatives are the largest party in local government, we should really be seeing Conservative councils around the country forging ahead with these ideas of their own accord.

Happily, Windsor and Maidenhead have set the pace by introducing this transparency pledge, and other councils should follow suit. There are certainly a lot of councillors out there who believe energetically in true localism, and this is a real world way of giving the people meaningful power to hold their councils to account. Sadly, there are some councils - such as Kent County Council, who almost seem to revel in their refusal to obey even the limited scope of the Freedom of Information Act - who view the taxpaying public as more of a nuisance than a group whom they exist to serve. Whilst as with any transfer of power from the state to the people there will be bastions of arrogance, stubbornness and obfuscation, hopefully plenty of other councils will see the right and the benefit in what Windsor and Maidenhead have done and follow suit.


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