Well, here’s a rum one.
During today’s Full Council, Cllr Collins answered a question from the Tories about whether Nottingham City Council would respond to the pressure coming from central government to join “Google Government” and automatically publish details of all spending over £500.
The response wasn’t quite “over my dead body” but it wasn’t far away. According to the Leader of the Council, Nottingham City will only publish the data if it becomes a legal duty.
In justifying that, he said that about half of all councils had decided to publish the data, about half were yet to do so. Comparable authorities to Nottingham had discovered that publishing the data proved pretty expensive: Newcastle and Manchester were mentioned, as was the figure £100,000 – not to publish the data itself, but in terms of additional queries generated from the public as a result of the greater transparency. FOI requests are already costing the city half a million a year to answer.
Those FOI requests are certainly interesting. Someone has already asked for the financial data, in the correct format, using an FOI request rather than wait for it to be published. It will be interesting to see if this is refused on cost grounds. Another interesting one was this management structure chart – which is more detailed than anything I’ve seen for ages! (hat tip NCCLOLs)
Anyway this blog from the BBC is suggesting, far from 200 councils taking Nottingham’s side, Nottingham is alone in the world in holding out and not publishing.
I’m personally a bit ambivalent about the value of doing so. Nottingham spends hundreds of millions of pounds, so you’re looking at millions of pieces of data. I’ve had a look at the County Council’s equivalent data and I’m not immediately bowled over by the usefulness of it. And there certainly is a lot of it – Cllr Collins had printed it out and brought a paper copy with him and it wouldn’t take many months before you had a telephone-directory-sworth of paper.
I first came across the idea of “Google Government in a David Cameron speech to Local Government Assoc annual conference, and I blogged about it then for LDV. I do stand by what I said then.
I do think that the political process in Nottingham is well served by having opposition councillors holding the executive to account. The Labour party would much rather that Nottingham were even more of a one party state than it is now. But it’s not just the job of us oppo cllrs. There is a small but perfectly formed community of local political bloggers and political journalists who are all contributing value to the process. Step forward The Evening Post, NCC LOLs and Nottingham Graffiti. Do any of you think you will be able to use data like the County Council provides in a meaningful way?