I recently asked, through the Freedom of Information when Carmarthenshire Council would be publishing details of all spending over £500, in an accessible format, in line with English councils who have now nearly all complied. To date the Welsh Assembly hasn't issued similar guidance so Welsh Councils are not obliged to release the data.
Those that don't disclose the information continue to incur ongoing costs by having to answer individual requests for specific items of expenditure. So to publish, with little in the way of set up costs, would not only improve transparency and accountablility and perhaps make some a little more mindful of what is being spent, but reduce costs of FoI in the long run.
I followed up my initial request by asking for spending details, over two years, narrowed down to four areas of council expenditure; Chief Executive's Department (including Legal), Regeneration and Leisure (includes Planning), Democratic Services and the Media/Press Department. Unsurprisingly, considering the previous response, my request was refused. The predictable reason for refusal was the cost of the work involved which exceeded the limit. I would not wish to incur the council taxpayer great expenditure in answering my request and I can understand that, at the moment the information is not centrally held, in which case I will also assume it is not being particularly well monitored either. The Council gave me examples to back up their refusal ie 6,257 items over £500 in Regeneration and 900 items in the Chief Executive's department. This is a lot of cash. I was also informed that even if I narrowed my request to one department, the details, eg invoices etc would not be released.
I think, from now on at least, this information should be collated in a form which will be accessible, subject to data protection etc etc to the general public. If you give someone several millions of pounds, as the taxpayer directly or indirectly gives the Council, you should expect to see exactly how, where, when (and to whom), it was spent, after all if you give someone a couple of grand to build an extension you would expect to see, if you wished, an itemised bill. This is no different.
I am not suggesting that anything untoward has been going on..but I am sure the Council would prefer full and open disclosure of data rather than face a possible drip feed of scandalous excesses hitting the headlines in a manner akin to (even more from) the Wales Audit Office.
I now expect the Welsh Assembly to at least consider issuing guidance to Welsh Local Authorities recommending that such data is published from now on.
1st request; http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/publishing_spending_details_over#incoming-140458
2nd request; http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/spending_details#incoming-172036