Waltham Forest council is one of eighteen London councils to have published information on council spending on items costing over £500. In August 2010, councils were told to publish this information by the end of January 2011, yet the BBC reports that some have yet to do so.
The information available from Waltham Forest council dates back to April 2010 and is published on a monthly basis here. There is a lot of information – Waltham Forest spending in November 2010, for example, contains information on 4,047 items. The objective of the exercise is to increase transparency about council spending. This is a laudable aim, considering it is taxpayers money which is being spent. Yet there is a balance between availability of data and usefulness of data.
It is hard to interpret these figures without context. 1,359 items cost less than £1,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest payments are to Ascham Homes Ltd, contractors, PFI payments, agency staff and computer network services. A lot of spending is described as “payments to public landlords” or other rent-related expenditure. It is interesting reading up to a point but there is no comparison with other London councils so it is hard to judge whether these costs are disproportionate or not.
Ultimately, giving people information about how their taxes are spent has some merit. It is also good to see that Waltham Forest council is being prompt with meeting its requirements. It will be interesting to see whether this leads to more public interrogation of council spending, or whether the data simply hovers out there, waiting to be looked at.