London council to put spending data online

The council for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is to take a major step towards transparency by putting an open source spreadsheet of its spending habits on the Spotlightonspend website at the end of the month.

The spending data will be uploaded to the website, which is run by Spikes Cavell, in the open source spreadsheet .csv format. The move to this format is designed to make the information more widely accessible, while keeping it in a structured manner.

12 other councils use the Spotlightonspend website to host data, but Hammersmith and Fulham claims to be doing more than the rest by making public more data, including payments made to the voluntary sector, expenses and allowances given to members of the council, and the register of assets that the council owns, including buildings and land, making the data extremely comprehensive.

“The vast majority of spending any council undertakes is not payments to suppliers, but rather its ongoing running costs and operational investments,” said Harry Phibbs, cabinet minister for community engagement. “Information not only needs to be transparent and accessible, but also intelligible to the general public so that it is meaningful and easily understood. It’s useless to simply have raw data. It needs to be presented in a format people can follow.”

Whilst this is true, it is also important to have the raw data there to verify the claims of the council. Simply having an edited version that is more legible does not make it completely transparent if the background figures are not supplied in an unedited fashion.

“We saw tremendous scope to work closely with Spikes Cavell and its Spotlightonspend platform to take transparency much further, and we’re very pleased to be entering this collaboration,” Phibbs said.

Phibbs also suggested that the council can cut costs by sending children in care to boarding schools, putting an end to fair trade coordinator and diversity offices, and closing old-fashioned public lavatories. When the spending data goes online at the end of the month the public can find other areas that the council is spending on that could be curbed or cut to save money.