William Eichler 27 September 2016

Taxpayers denied full access to information on public spending

The taxpayer is being prevented from fully scrutinising the way public funds are spent, anti-corruption group warns.

New research from Transparency International UK revealed that inaccessible and redacted data is preventing members of the public from being able to analyse public spending properly.

The anti-corruption group found in over a third of public contracts (35%) it is unclear to whom they have been awarded.

They also learnt there were 81,057 different descriptions given to transactions - a fact which makes analysis of data near impossible.

Transparency International cited Hackney London Borough Council as one case where redactions had made scrutiny difficult. In one month alone the council reported £14m worth of redacted transaction data that did not identify suppliers.

It also reported that Lancashire CC redacted numerous payments for a multi-billion pound PFI scheme, leaving no information about the name of the contractor, and Nottingham CC redacted the details of £10m - worth of expenditure.

‘Whether exposing lobbying abuses or unearthing undeclared conflicts of interest, open data is an essential tool in the fight against corruption,’ said Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK.

‘Real transparency significantly reduces hiding places for corrupt individuals and allows the public to hold the Government to account.’

‘Transparency isn’t just about dumping data – it must also be easy to access and read, timely, and crucially complete,’ he continued.

‘There is a danger that although the Government are ticking the right boxes, the true spirit of transparency is being lost. The result is a missed opportunity to flush out questionable contacts and root out waste.’

Last May, Whitehall published the UK Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18 where it outlined its commitment to ‘unprecedented visibility on how government spends money’ and to ‘opening up better quality data to strengthen accountability.’

Mr Hames described these moves as ‘positive’, but added Whitehall must ‘work with civil society, business and other stakeholders to ensure they are implemented in practice.’

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