Publishing itemised local authority expenditure - advice for comment

The Prime Minister and CLG Ministers wish to see local authorities publish granular local spending data. The Public Sector Transparency Board has been set up to drive an open data agenda. The Prime Minister has made a specific commitment that new items of local government spending over £500 be published on a council-by-council basis from January 2011. http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/statements-and-articles/2010/05/letter-t... Many local authorities also wish to publish such data. Camden Council asked the Panel for advice on publishing information about payments to suppliers greater than £500 in value.

The Panel publishes the following advice as a first step – we recognise that it may contain errors or omissions and we welcome comments to correct those. Please comment on this blog post and in the discussion forum. The Panel will publish further advice in due course on this website, we shall also schedule workshops to provide practical advice and guidance and share best practice. We recognise that this advice is applicable more broadly than local authorities and welcome suggestions for other areas where with modification, the advice could apply.

Our advice broadly follows Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s paper, ‘Putting Government Data Online’ http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/GovData.html. Publishing raw data quickly is an immediate priority, but in the medium term local authorities should work towards structured, regularly updated data published on the Web using open standards. Subject to other issues below, our immediate advice to local authorities is:

  • Users will be interested in the core information held in the accounts system – such as expenditure code, amount paid, transaction date, beneficiary, and payment reference number. The expenditure code has to be explained and steps taken to help users identify the beneficiary
  • As a first stage, publish the raw data and any lookup table needed to interpret it in a spreadsheet as a CSV or XML file as soon as possible. This should be put on the council’s website as a document for anyone to download. Or even published in a service such as Google Docs
  • There is not yet a national approach for publishing local authority expenditure data. This should not stop publication of data in its raw, machine-readable form. Observing such raw data being used is the only route to a national approach, should one be required
  • Publishing raw data will allow the panel and others to assess how that data could/should be presented to users. Sight of the data is worth a hundred meetings. Members of the panel will study the data, take part in the discussion and revise this advice.
  • As a second stage, informed by the discussion, the panel and users can then give feedback about publishing data (RDF, CSV, etc) in a way that can be consistent across all local authorities involving structured, regularly updated data published on the Web using open standards.

There are a range of other issues to consider. Reflecting the experience of local authorities that already publish expenditure data such as the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (http://www.rbwm.gov.uk/web/finance_payments_to_suppliers.htm) and the London Datastore the Panel makes the following observations:

Publication: all payments to suppliers for goods and services and grants over £500 should be published. There are limited exceptions surrounding personal information that falls under the Data Protection Act: any deleted data entry should be replaced with the word REDACTED. We can’t think of circumstances in Local Authorities where payment amounts and the record of the payment itself should be redacted as a whole.

Dissemination: Local authorities should make it clear that they are publishing data. We recommend that Local Authorities register their data on data.gov.uk both to give the data its widest audience, but also to act as proof of publication. The first step is to get in contact with data.gov.uk and let them know you have some data. Where regional data stores exist such as the London Datastore and the West Midlands Observatory http://www.wmro.org/homeTemplate.aspx/Home they should also be informed.

Accounting systems: a local authority should be able to produce at a negligible cost an electronic list of payments from their accounting system and then sort that for payments greater than £500. It should be possible to meet this expenditure through internal resources.

Context: local authorities should provide sufficient context so that people can understand what expenditure codes mean. At the outset, this should not hold up publication of data while a huge list is ‘cleared’ around the organisation. There will be an internal list of codes – publish that. Also let users explore the data and respond with what they need to know, rather than trying to guess this in advance or engage through meetings. RBWM provides an email address to respond to queries about expenditure items. The London Datastore publishes GLA expenditure over £1,000 with a simple descriptor http://www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/greater-london-authority/expend...

Supplier Identification: to support transparency we need to be able to identify suppliers. This is often not possible from the name alone, or from the accounting system's internal ID. Ideally publication would include the Companies House number (or equivalent in the case of foreign companies) or Charity registration number, or failing that because it's a partnership or similar, or because it isn't stored in the accounts system, you should publish whatever there is. In all accounts systems this would be address/telephone number, and also VAT number for those suppliers that are registered.

Timeliness: data should be published in a timely manner, for instance within a month of month end.

Payroll and benefits payments to individuals: We take it that in general local authorities do not yet wish to publish their payroll nor benefits payments to individuals so they should not be in the data set. However, these are major items of expenditure and it should be possible to publish basic anonymised statistical information such as distributions of payments etc. This requires further discussion.

Public protection: Information about the vulnerable and children requires proper protection. Names of payment beneficiaries for goods and services and possibly even account codes might reveal sensitive information about vulnerable people or children in the council’s care unless risk management processes are put in place. We expect that such risks are already managed by internal processes, but information that puts people at risk should not be published.

Personal information and data protection: some people who are sole traders being paid for goods and services by a local authority might have their name in published data as a beneficiary. There is a clear public interest in such payments being public and transparent. We are not data protection experts and would urge the Information Commissioner to examine this.

Confidentiality agreements in contracts: Local authorities will wish to make their own judgement on the relative efficiencies of simply publishing payment amounts to companies that may be covered by confidentiality agreements versus responding to repeated FOI requests for the same information. We note the judgements by the Information Commissioner on the public interest over-riding standard confidentiality clauses in agreements between public bodies and companies. We support the government’s position that contracts should be published.

William Perrin

Chris Taggart

Nigel Shadbolt (Chair)

On behalf of the Local Public Data Panel 02 June 2010

Comments

Suggastions

Use the highest level of granularity which is practical; and reuse field names/ types from existing standards (like vCard for name+address) where possible.

--
Andy Mabbett
@pigsonthewing

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Context & Guidance for end-users

As well as asking LAs to provide context on the different codes in the dataset - it would be very useful to ask each LA to provide a clear (short) statement on how the data has been derived to include things like:

- The system the data was exported from and how it is collected;
- Any cleaning of data that has taken place;
- Any omissions to be expected;
- How often updates will be posted;
- Who to contact with any questions about the data;

This meta-data is really important to people being able to explore and use government data effectively - and it's often lacking from datasets released at present.

Perhaps some rough template for a statement based on the sorts of things a re-user of data would need to know might be handy?

Other things that it might be useful to encourage LAs to do in order to help people who are planning to use the data are to:

- Share some basic guidance on how it might be used and any caveats to be aware of in using the data; (perhaps some general guidance/info for end-users could emerge nationally / be shared between LAs)

- Offer people the chance to join a distribution e-mail list to hear about changes to the data;

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Re: Context & Guidance for end-users

I think these suggestions are excellent, and we should definitely incorporate them in the next draft.

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context and guidance

that seems very sensible set of caveats

thanks

william

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publishing payments over £500

Hi, is it possible for you to confirm if this applies also to including details of payments of invoices made by local authorities to suppliers in respect of their schools invoices

Ken Moore
Head of Exchequer Services
Birmingham City Council

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schools payments

hi ken - i guess so - its a good or service and in aggregate a major expenditure.

cheers

william

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LA Expenditure

This could be worthwhile, but then again, it will probably just lead to journalists jumping on the babdwagon with some form of expenditure, turning it into a story and making Councils look inefficient as always... but I suppose they are inefficient. Personally, I would prefer to see the Directors take more responsibilty for their budgets and justify the whole spend for the year in a report suitable for reading and understanding by the local people.

Regards,

Martin

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EU Procurement Rules?

Could this lead to companies being unfairly targeted for their total income from a single council?
A hypothetical scenario being a company with a casual relationship with a council. Will the data show that the payments were not related to each other or to tenders which are similar? Could the data suggest that the council is not following EU procurement rules as they should?
i.e. Total annual income for the company from the council being higher than the EU limit for the requirement for a tender.

There is a big danger that this data is going to get misunderstood by third parties with a hidden agenda!

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Thresholds

Two quick thoughts on the £500 threshold.

Multiple transactions under £500 to same supplier?

Should the guidance specify whether how far transactions to the same provider should be aggregated together with respect to this threshold. RBWM (http://www.rbwm.gov.uk/web/finance_payments_to_suppliers.htm) talk about publishing quarterly reports that 'list the total payments to suppliers with a cumulative value over £500'

Would this mean that two £300 payments to the same supplier in the same period should be reported, as they cumulatively cross the £500 threshold.

Without a condition like this it becomes very easy for suppliers / spendings with mid-sized transactions to game the system by, for example, always invoicing when outstanding balances reach £499 etc. (or £250, or whatever other sub £500 sum).

Non-reported balance
Partly to respond to the challenge above (which is not easily solved as far as I can see... as any aggregation requirement needs interpretation which may prove costly, or effectively removes the £500 floor on many things), it may be good to recommend that LAs report one additional aggregate figure for the total of non-itemised spending.

I.e. If total spend was £50k, and £35k of that was made up transactions > £500 which were individual reported, the council should clearly report alongside the release of itemised reports, that £15k was also spend in non-itemised transactions each < £500.

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Thresholds

As soon as you introduce anything that involves further analysis of the data to make it more 'accurate' you are adding an additional and unnecessary burden of responsibility for already hard-pressed local authorities. The last thing we need is more bureaucracy.

The requirement (if any) should be for simple publication of data extracted directly from financial systems and no further analysis in my opinion.

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Guidance should explicitly disallow PDF files

Given Local Government's oft-obsession with publishing PDF files, I think it would be sensible if the guidance explicitly stated that PDF files are not acceptable, because they are unparsable.

The phrase "Or even published in a service such as Google Docs" is definitely liable to be misinterpreted as being "e.g. a PDF"

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Guidance should explicitly disallow PDF files

I notice that Hammersmith & Fulham have recently published spending data - but as a PDF!

See: http://www.lbhf.gov.uk/Directory/News/Council_publishes_spending_over_fi...

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Identifying suppliers and other payment beneficiaries/payees

there is a very helpful discussion on the issues behind identifying payment beneficiaires/payees/suppliers here

http://rasga.co.uk/2010/06/02/data-gov-uk-local-data-payment-publishing-...

well worth a look

Neil is a data analayst behind much interesting work with public data in the West Midlands.

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Eric Pickles announcement on opening up local data

The Secretary of State made an announcement about his desire to see councils opn up data. The CLG press notice

http://www.communities.gov.uk/newsstories/newsroom/1607061

And Eric Pickles own article in the Daily Telegraph on opening up council data

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/7805372...

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Armchair Auditor

I wrote an app to do this yesterday afternoon:

http://armchairauditor.heroku.com/

Currently it shows 12,000 payments by Windsor & Maidenhead Council, browseable by directorate, council service and supplier. You can download CSV files from the app, too.

While neither the data nor the app are perfect, I hope they show what can be achieved with a little effort and willingness.

The app is open source so if anyone wants to use it for their own council they can.

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Heat / Light

I fear that this data will generate more heat than light. There is no feasible way of asking Councils to use a common supplier identification reference, which will leave users looking at long lists of supplier names, without any context other than the proprietary budget codes.

Those looking to identify the relationship an individual supplier has with different Councils will fare much better, but those looking to really understand how their Council spends money may well be disappointed.

This is definitely a fantastic start and we should applaud this initiative, but we also need to be realistic about what can be achieved with this data.

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Publication

"... There are limited exceptions surrounding personal information that falls under the Data Protection Act: any deleted data entry should be replaced with the word REDACTED".

Can this be done automatically while still allowing the data to be useful? The last (?) thing we need is people having to trawl through tens of thousands of expenditure items before publication.

The W&M data set does not contain the word "redacted"... so what do they do?

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Publishing Payment made by Local Authorities

Publishing payment details looks a reasonable straightforward requirement, but the letter from the Secretary of State, talked about payments - whether they be invitations to tender, contracts, or actual payments. Is this an either or, or is it and, as invitations to tender are not payments. The examples provided from two authorities are very clearly payments. Is there any further clarrification on this matter avaialble.

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Benefits

Can I ask how far the costs of doing this, particularly if LAs have to make exceptions/edit the data, are exceeded by the benefits? The exemplar is apparently W & M but their data tells you virtually nothing and my understanding is they have had minimal response in terms of queries from the public.

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Opening the Town Hall books

The Access to Information legislation which Central Government imposed on local government years ago ( but did not apply to itself, surprise surprise) just created a paper chain industry and added nothing of value to public scrutiny.

Am I the only one to doubt there are millions of " armchair auditors" out there, to quote Eric Pickles, who are going to spend their evenings checking their local authority website. Those who do will be the articulate, the well educated, who are quite capable of getting information and asking the right questions. It will also be the job of the trainee journalist at the the local rag to check how much is spent on biscuits, foreign travel, office decorations. The ridiculous £500 limit is just asking for this.

The big decisions local authorities make... particularly the hard ones to come, on which schools to close, which VSO to pull the plug on, which service to stop, are all made long before information would be supplied on the spend. If the community, and that includes the inarticulate, the disadvantaged is involved in helping decide those priorities and shaping the services, with the full information on costs and benefits, the books will simply show what they know already.

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Whatever happened to lean?

i'm all for accountability, efficiency savings but this is sheer madness. Armchair auditors, analysis of 'granular' spending, Transparency Board for items of over £500. The lunatics have taken over the assylum!

This initiave will greatly add to bureaucracy. Officer, Consultant time/resource/money will be 'wasted' on discussing, developing, implementing a system which I believe is likely to be 'half baked'. Councils will need additional numbers of staff to deal with the contacts from 'armchair auditors' who have found an alternative hobby to 'peeping out from behind their curtains'.

Set the bar at a level of (say) £20-30k. With a threat to go lower once a UK 'system' of evidencing spend can be agreed (and imposed). This will get results.

People who want to know about buffets, travel, water, paper clips, etc can use the FOI route already available to them.

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Publishing Financial Data

The public already have the right to inspect Council accounts, which is very little used other than by the local media.

Having looked at some sites where data is already published it tells me nothing about the propriety of the expenditure or the value for money.

The way the data is proposed to be published, I will know the suplier and the invoice total if over £500. But was that spend for 1 widget or 500?

It is naive to say that this will cost very little. Producing the data may well cost very little but the cost of answering and explaining will cost a lot. There could be referals to the Audit Commission because the data is so unclear and that wil cost the LA in audit fees.

We are already seeing increasing use of FOI legislation for commercial purposes, at a cost to the taxpayer. There are fishing trips by national journalists at a cost when most of the data produced is not used.

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What's the point?

OK, no-one can argue that transparency is a good idea, in theory, but why is this, in particular, good?
Have the public being asking for councils to do this?
I looked at the lists on the Windsor & Maidenhead website, and thought, as a member of the public, what use is this to me?
And on W&M, what outcome can they show from doing this? Can they show it's led to better procurement?
I'm not saying it hasn't, just don't know, and, I must admit, am a bit sceptical.
From a VFM perspective, will be be using some of our diminishing resources on something of little, or negligible, benefit to our local council tax payers?

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Why?

Yet another pointless exercise in being seen to do the right thing but simply taking further time and resource away from actually delivering service.

Surely time for a back to basics approach and free up LA employees to deliver service not meet another tick box target.

We already have '3 quote' guidelines and procurement groups. What value add is this proposal?

Deflection exercise anyone?

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How to achieve this......

I am working with the 42 local authorities in the NW on this with the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (NWIEP). It will be a challenge to do by the Jan 2011 date that was published. The letter from Eric Pickles directs councils to a discussion on this site. I guess this is it - could see much in the forum?

There is a lot to consider and a number of ways that can be done.

The W&M model uses Spikes Cavell spend analysis as its source. This used to be expensive (not sure now) and was only really possible annually but may have now changed.

Categorisation is important so can compare like with like. I hope we defualt to ProClass. (http://proclass.org.uk/)

Data cleaning will be vital to extract things like individual social care payments that really don't need to be and should not be published. Even with some automation I suspect some manually checking.

I doubt we will see a national solution but (assuming the RIEPs keep their funding) 9 regional ones would be a good start. I know the RIEPs have this on their agenda with procurement leads when we meet on Tue this week. I would suggest authorities speak to the RIEPs as a first step.

The NW also has a meeting on Wed to discuss and as we have a regional spend analysis tool developed hopefully we can achieve this in a standard way by the dates discussed.

PS. I see this as 1 of 2 things needed. The 2nd is to publish details of all quotes and tenders above £500 but this needs to be so suppliers can bid - i.e. before spend, not after. We have a regional way of doing this on an eTendering portal ( https://www.thechest.nwce.gov.uk/) but currently working at a +£50k level. However, at such a lower level obviously more volume, resources and system impact.

I know there is also a national portal being developed by OGC/HMRC.

Neil Hind
NWIEP Programme Manager
neil.hind@nwiep.org.uk

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Re: How to achieve this......

Neil

Think you raise some good points, but I think it would be a mistake to conflate procurement and spending.

Also I've been told by W&M that the data on their website isn't derived from the Spikes Cavell dataset (although they do supply data to SC), and I don't think in any case this would be a good approach to take (see more on this here and here).

Re the role of RIEPs, I think a good deal depends on the body, and how it sees its role -- as an agent for positive change, or as a defender of the status quo, and I think there jury's still out re this.

Just looking at the NWIEP contracts database, for example, I couldn't see anyway to download this as data, and in fact the key bit of data, from a transparency perspective -- who the contract is with -- doesn't seem to be there. Would it be possible to change both of these quite quickly?

Chris T

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Personal Data

It's not clear what is classed a a personal payment. Does this include sole traders, foster parents etc?

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Personal Data

Regarding the query on Personal data below.
Payments to foster parents would clearly need to have personal details redacted - see the "Public protection" issue above.
Payments to sole traders are discussed in the "Personal Information" issue above, and we will need to follow this up with the Information Commissioner.

David Plant
CLG Local Public Data Unit

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Publishing Contracts in Full

....for many categories of expenditure a nailed on certain way to reduce the responses to public sector ITTs, constrain innovation in suppliers' bids, and to increase costs in public sector contracts. Why would a bidder put all their intellectual property - including their unique selling points - in the public domain? Just what we need with a huge public deficit.

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Prototype now on-line

Adrian Short (@adrianshort) has an open-source demonstrator of software to display such data, at armchairauditor.co.uk.

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Standards are required.

The key to making data available and usable is standards. Five pertinent pieces of data are mentioned with possibly a few others implied. What is required is a standard way for this data to be produced and consumed. This should be the open data standard of RDF/XML. In addition an ontology needs to be produced for the LA financial data. Once this has been agreed it is a relatively simple process for the data to be extracted and made available for public use.

The first pass nor probably the second pass will be perfect but getting information into the public domain is commendable.

Dick Murray
Technology Specialist
Unit4 Business Software

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Extensible Businss Reporting Language (XBRL)

For the information to be re-usable across all LA then whether it's in a CSV or XML it needs to be an agreed format. XRBLalready provides a framework for consistently reporting financial information, is already implemented by the accounting packages, is used within government (Inland Revenue) and is extensible to meet specific taxonomy requirements. If the data is to be shared and usable for anything than analysis of individual LA it would seem like a starting point for a standard.

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Agree fields

I'd be really keen to get an early consensus as to which fields would be most beneficial to the public?

Although a great starting point, I'm not sure that the public will find use in some of the fields within Windsor & Maidenhead's data.

To perhaps start the debate, I'd like to suggest; reporting period (i.e. May 2010); Supplier Name; Total Gross Amount (within period); Type of Expenditure (from either Accounting System or external spend analysis).

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Roll on the lawyers...!

Law of unintended consequencies...?

I'm off to setup a new law firm who will trawl this data, find non-compliance with LA Procurement or better still for us, OJEU Procurement rules, e.g. taxis and then trawl for disgruntled suppliers who never had a chance to bid. Then sue the LA on a non-win no-fee basis.

Thank you HMG - just as you shut down the Personal Injury Law Firms you have given us a new mother load.

My cheque is in the post.

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What about the Contractors?

Has it not yet occurred to anyone that commercial contractors might have an issue with this as well as int individuals it is proposed that we exclude for DP act purposes. Why on earth would a company, in a cut-throat economic environment, want it's competitors to know how much it's charging for work so they can be undercut.
This might actually make it harder to find contractors to carry work out in the first place.

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Windsor and Maidenhead data

As far as I can tell the data published by Windsor and Maidenhead is a summary total for the quarter per supplier per cost code. As such they can't and don't publish the payment reference. However this is one of the fields you say should be published.

To do this you have to publish at the transaction level thereby substantially increasing volumes and complexity. It also calls into question the definition of a payment.

Our payments are an aggregate of all outstanding invoices for a supplier when the payment run runs. So this could include invoices for several departments. Also an invoice can cover multiple types of supply. So is a £500 payment the value of the payment, if so when you break it down to types of supply and department these will be less than £500. Or is it the value of each invoice? Again this will need to be broken down. Or is it the value of each invoice line?

In my opinion the summary data produced by Windsor and Maindenhead is easier to produce and is more informative to the public. It doesn't achieve absolute granularity but does provide detailed information about how much is spent with who and for what purpose.

Either way it would be very helpful to know at what level we should be reporting.

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Re: Windsor and Maidenhead data

In fact the Windsor and Maidenhead is is produced at the transaction level, although it does depend on which period you look at (as I covered in my blog post, the format changes somewhat from file to file).

Looking at the most recent file, for Jan-Mar 2010 inclusive although the file covers a quarter each entry is for a transaction, together with the date of that transaction -- have a look at the 14 entries for Abba Cars, for example.

Although on this file there are no transaction IDs, there are on other files (e.g. the previous quarter), and W&M have been made aware of this issue, and I believe are working on it.

I really can't see that publishing aggregated information is "more informative to the public", as it is easy to aggregate the data if it's at a granular level (as indeed both OpenlyLocal and Armchair Auditor are doing), impossible to go the other direction.

It's also worth noting that the £500 lower limit can be waived, as I'm sure some councils will do, as they may find it easier to publish all data rather than excluding or aggregating data below that level.

Finally, the intention by the Secretary of State is, I believe, for councils to publish details of all their significant spending (which is why there's the £500 lower limit), and so splitting bigger payments into smaller chunks, or aggregating it over longer periods would definitely be going against the spirit of it. Probably a good idea to make this explicit in future versions.

Chris T

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Payments made through bank accounts and purchasing cards

A download of data from the purchase ledger is straight forward, but how about direct debit payments though the bank and payments on procurement cards and corporate cards? This would require extra manual intervention.

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Confidentiality clauses

Could you clarify the position about commercial confidentiality more?

There is a concern about (a) possible legal action from breaking existing agreements and (b) future tenders getting fewer and more expensive responses if we refused to sign such clauses.

I believe FOI does not require disclosure if commercial interests would be jeopardised, yet the general theme of this blog seems to be to disclose everything.

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Confidentiality Clauses

See separate thread -
Payments over £500 – balancing the public interest and commercial issues.

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Added context to Reporting

Although some Councils have already started to publish details of payments to suppliers over £500, there is obviously a reticense to develop costly reporting solutions. Councils therefore appear to publish the information in downloadable format either as Excel spreadsheets or PDF documents. Although this may 'tick' the required disclosure requirements, we do not believe that this provides real value to the public.

Information such as this only has real value if it can be viewed in context (i.e. is a payment normal or abnormal). For a user to be able to make this interpretation, they may need to be able to look at spend in a month for a particular expense category against similar spend in previous periods or against other categories.

BIOLAP has developed an application, driven by arcplan technology, that we will provide to Councils free of charge to allow members of the public to analyse expenditure, slice and dice information and drill through to the underlying transactions.

Please feel free to try out our dashboard at http://www.biolap.co.uk/index.php/councilexpenses.html and we would welcome any feedback and suggestions at councilexpenses@biolap.co.uk

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Context

What I find totally bizarre with this exercise is the lack of any real context to this data, even if the meaning of account codes is set out. I do not see how any reasoned judgement can be made from data merely that a transaction has occurred with a supplier against a certain account code. But hey, I'm only an accountant with over 20 years' experience.

Let me give an example. If I see a payment to an off-licence for £500 coded against "Beer", what conclusion do I draw? The Council is wasting public money on booze for staff? The Council's Trading Standards department have been making test purchases for underage sales? The Council's leisure centre has been ordering stock for its bar? Who knows - this is totally meaningless without any context.

However, we now see the witch-hunt starting when items of (probably legitimate) expenditure are apparently spent on things that the self-appointed guardians of public expenditure (the media) do not think are appropriate. Balance and fact checking do not seem to stand in the way of a good story, however inaccurate or misleading to may be. How long before one of these stories of righteous indignation at Councils wasting money on hotels turns out to be expenditure on holiday breaks for disabled children, as supported and encouraged by the government via a grant? Will that discovery attract the same prominence?

I have nothing against transparency and the public's right to know how public funds are spent, but proper scrutiny examines information, not raw data, which is all this exercise offers.

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Council Expenses Dashboard

Although some Councils have already started to publish details of payments to suppliers over £500, there is obviously a reticense to develop costly reporting solutions. Councils therefore appear to publish the information in downloadable format either as Excel spreadsheets or PDF documents. Although this may 'tick' the required disclosure requirements, we do not believe that this provides real value to the public.

Information such as this only has real value if it can be viewed in context (i.e. is a payment normal or abnormal). For a user to be able to make this interpretation, they may need to be able to look at spend in a month for a particular expense category against similar spend in previous periods or against other categories.

BIOLAP has developed an application, driven by arcplan technology, that we provide to Councils free of charge to allow members of the public to analyse expenditure, slice and dice information and drill through to the underlying transactions.

Try out BIOLAP's free Council Expenses Dashboard that now contains more than 50 Councils' Payments to Suppliers over £500 at -

http://www.biolap.co.uk/index.php/councilexpenses.html

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