David Seaton Peterborough’s Cabinet Member for Resources responds to Eric Pickles’ call for councils to be more transparent and open with information. Broadcast at 07:35 on Monday 7th June 2010 in the Paul Stainton Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
STAINTON: Now over the weekend you may have seen this. Eric Pickles the new Tory Communities Secretary sent a letter to all councils asking them to be more transparent. He’s urging councils to publish details of all their spending over five hundred pounds. So are Peterborough City Council going to follow Mr Pickles’ advice? David Seaton is the Cabinet Member for Resources. David? Are you?
STAINTON: Good. When?
SEATON: Well the timescale that Eric Pickles has set out is January twenty eleven. This advice has only just come down to the councils so I’m currently looking at how quickly we can do that. But I totally support what he’s doing. Taxpayers have the right to know how their money is spent.
STAINTON: Yes. What sort of things are we talking about here? Because everything over five hundred pounds, what does that cover?
SEATON: Well you’ll have insurance payments, you’ll probably have all the stationery that we buy, anything that a very large business would spend in the normal course of its operations.
STAINTON: Because it’s very difficult at the moment isn’t it to work out what the Council spends on this and that. I was trying to work out what we’d spent on Cathedral Square. It’s just about impossible.
SEATON: Well I think we’ve been pretty open about Cathedral Square Paul.
STAINTON: Have we? How much did it cost?
SEATON: Well twelve million pounds.
STAINTON: Ok. Twelve million.
SEATON: That’s been published I think on your show, and in the ET and other areas. And the fountains cost three hundred thousand. So I think transparency and openness is important to me, and that’s why I’ve met many local people to talk about the Budget, and looking at what Eric Pickles the Secretary of State has called for, he’s said that we should publish senior salary details. We do that. He’s said that minutes and papers should be published for meetings. We do that. Council allowances and expenses, we publish that. Job vacancies should be online. we do that. Rubbish and recycling rates, council tax collection rates, major planned projects, all of those things that he’s calling councils to publish, we already do. We’ve also introduced Neighbourhood Councils, so people can come along and challenge not only their councillors, but council officers face to face. So I think a lot of what he’s asking for we already do. And as I say by January twenty eleven everything over five hundred pounds will go online too.
STAINTON: So you’ve not got a lot of things to do then? You’re doing most of the work already, so you won’t have to create an extra post or anything to do this extra work?
SEATON: I certainly hope not. I certainly hope not.
STAINTON: Right. So what will you have to do then? What is the extra work you’ll have to do?
SEATON: Well we’ll take a .. it’s a technical thing Paul. We’ll take a download from our database called Oracle, and we’ll put that online. I think it’s important to protect personal data, and there are laws around that. And we need to provide information that actually tells people something. So there will be a code of practice that the Government will issue in the autumn, and we must comply with that, but otherwise I think taking the data and putting it online should be eventually a fairly straightforward process.
STAINTON: Ok so we look forward to reading through it, and your reaction this morning to the Government’s scrapping of Labour’s plans for a so-called bin tax in England? It seems like common sense to me. They were going to charge households for the amount of rubbish they throw away. Instead we’re going to offer people rewards to encourage more recycling. I’m sure that’s the right way to do it, isn’t it?
SEATON: Absolutely. Totally support that. And I think it’s the right way to go.
STAINTON: Thank you for that. David Seaton, Cabinet Member for Resources, who says Peterborough City Council is going to be much much much more transparent.