The Government has just published an FAQ on the new transparency rules that come into effect om 7 November 2014. One or two of the questions and answers perhaps need to be highlighted to EDDC – particularly questions and answers 47, 66 and 81 below:
Q 23: How will the Code be enforced?
The Information Commissioner’s Office will not monitor compliance with the Code: it will react to complaints from the public under existing frameworks – the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations7. In order to ensure that authorities fulfil their obligations:
anyone can make a complaint to the Monitoring Officer of a local authority and remind them of their duty;
the public can use the local authority’s complaints procedures;
it may be possible to make a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman where
other local authority complaints procedures have been exhausted;
the authority could become subject to judicial review;
the public can make a Freedom of Information Act request. Where the local authority
does not respond positively to the Freedom of Information request, members of the public can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office under the existing Freedom of Information framework. As well as any issues related to a request, the Information Commissioner’s Office will consider whether the matter under the Code aligns with Freedom of Information obligations.
Q 37: Does publication of expenditure transactions exceeding £500 include all individual salary transactions?
Salary payments to staff normally employed by the local authority should not be included. However, local authorities should strongly consider publishing details of payments to individual contractors (e.g. individuals from consultancy firms, employment agencies, direct personal contracts etc) either here or under contract information. Furthermore, there is a separate set of requirements to publish details of senior salaries in paragraphs 38 and 39 of the Code. And, we think it is important that local people are aware of how much, in total, is being spent on salaries: the Code recommends that this information is published at least quarterly.
Q 47: How can my authority publish details of contracts given they are commercially sensitive?
Where local authorities are disclosing information, they must ensure that they comply with all existing legislation. However, the Government has not yet seen any evidence that publishing the details specified in the Code about contracts entered into by local authorities, breaches any obligations to maintain commercial confidentiality. Local authorities should make potential contractors aware that details of any contract will be made public under the Code to avoid any problems.
Q 57: Isn’t there a risk that the requirement to publish contractual information might deter suppliers from bidding for contracts?
The Government has not seen any evidence to suggest that this is the case. Whilst the point was made during consultation, no evidence was presented to demonstrate that suppliers will be deterred from bidding for contracts. And, local authorities must continue to abide by all data protection and privacy requirements.
Q 66: Is there a minimum size of site or asset for which information should be published?
No, there is no de minimis for the size of site or asset on which information should be published. Small tracks of land can be high value assets because, for example, they provide access to larger developable land.
Q 81: Should contractors employed by the local authority be included in organisation charts, published senior salary details etc?
The Code does not prescribe whether contractors’ should be included. Authorities must ensure that the information they publish gives local taxpayers a clear and accurate picture of the way their workforce is organised and how public money is spent on senior pay and reward. Within that context, it is for each authority to strongly consider whether to include contractors.