Making transparency work
Juggling public perception and policy can often be a source of grief for local authorities. Ever since the Telegraph exposed the MPs’ expenses scandal five years ago, the public’s perception of those in charge has been undoubtedly tainted by the crisis, which doesn’t always make it easy for councils to engage with their communities. Thankfully, a recent survey by the LGA found that the general public trusts their council to make decisions more than those in Westminster – so breathe a sigh of relief.
The scandal surrounded the perspicuity of government and whether taxpayers’ money was being spent wisely and for the benefit of those who need it most. Transparency has been a prominent topic for a while now and, despite public focus on central government, it hasn’t fallen short of the localist’s radar. It will come as welcome news, then, to hear that local government can make a discerned step towards ‘democratic accountability’, and put power in the hands of the people, using the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Local Government Transparency Code published earlier this month.
The code was guided by three tenets of transparency that will prove to be constraints on an authority’s resources but that, nevertheless, should help usher councils and their constituents into a more collaborative future, helping to shape public services for the common good. Data should be demand-led, in that it should be pertinent to the needs of the community; it should be open, its availability publicised and accessible; and it should be timely, available as soon as possible even without accompanying analysis.
Making the transition to full transparency may seem daunting – what data should be published, how, and with what funds are questions on every council’s lips – but the LGA in partnership with ESD will be holding free seminars and workshops across the country to help everyone get onboard. Each event will present an overview of current policies, practices, funding opportunities and the technical aspects of implementing open data, as well as ideas and workshops by other local authorities and public sector bodies on how they have opened up their data.
The seminars, held between 6 and 10 June, are open to anyone interested in the use of local open data but preference will be given initially to local authorities and LG Inform Plus subscribing organisations. For more information, visit the Events page and register your interest before the seminars are fully booked.