Public spending: Councils hang back over Pickles transparency call

HALF of councils in the region are waiting until the last moment to release details of how they spend taxpayers money despite constant pressure from the Government to hurry up.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles warned local authorities three months ago they were being "laggardly" if they had not already posted details of all spending over 500 online so it could be sifted through by an army of "armchair auditors".

But despite his pressure, only about half of councils in the region have so far done so, according to a survey by the Yorkshire Post.

Most of Yorkshire's biggest councils will wait until next month, the deadline set by Mr Pickles, to open up the books in what the Government hopes will be a big step forward in making local authorities more transparent and accountable.

Of those authorities which responded to inquiries, York, Wakefield, Rotherham, Calderdale, Ryedale, Hambleton and Richmondshire councils have all got the data online, while East Riding Council said it was planning to do so by the end of December.

But at least nine councils will wait until January before taxpayers get chance to examine how their money is spent. Ministers hope this will help to identify wasteful spending which can be cut to protect services as Government funding is cut by up to a quarter next year.

Councils in Hull, Harrogate, Selby, Craven, Sheffield, Doncaster, North Yorkshire, Kirklees and Leeds all said they have yet to put up the information, although all were expecting to meet the January deadline.

Last night Mr Pickles, a former leader of Bradford Council, said: "I'd urge all councils to show us the money. It's vital they put all expenditure on line so they can be held to account by the electorate. In these tough economic times councils need to justify each penny they spend to the public. The best way of doing this is being open and transparent and putting it online. We expect councils to hurry up and get this done."

Explaining his idea for demanding the data was put online, Mr Pickles has said it would usher in a "new era of transparency". He has put details of his own department's spending online to encourage local authorities to do so.

"The public have a right to see how their council tax is being spent so they know they are getting value for money and the best possible frontline services," he said.

"I want to see an army of 'Armchair Auditors' pore over the information and hold their council to account if things are not done right. That means the data also has to be easily accessible: today advice has been published that will help councils yet to comply.

"There are hundreds of computer whizzes who'll find creative new ways to make that raw data relevant to local life."

Next month's deadline for putting the information online comes as councils consider how to deal with severe cuts in Government funding.