Just before Christmas, the UK Government announced a new report on Making local public expenditure data public, and the development of Local Spending Reports. The report outlines government plans to publish lots more information on where UK public money is spent at local level:

It is critical […] that information on public expenditure should be clear, accessible
and useful. We believe that spending by local authorities and other public bodies should
be as transparent to delivery partners and local people as it can be. We want to make it
easier for citizens to look right across all the local services in an area and spot evidence of
duplication or waste, and hold providers to account.

The Government is therefore committed to the broader provision of local information, and
Local Spending Reports sit within those plans as a major part of the central government
offer to the information set available on local services and local places.

They suggest that opening up local government data on where public money is spent may encourage innovation in representing this data – and specifically cite the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Where Does My Money Go project, as well as Openly Local.

We are aware of the many excellent websites springing up which are providing innovative
ways of looking at available public data and presenting it in very user-friendly formats; for
example www.openlylocal.com/ (information on local councillors and council meetings)
and Open Knowledge Foundation’s free interactive online tool for showing where UK
public spending goes at www.wheredoesmymoneygo.org/prototype/. This latter tool
enables the public to explore data on UK public spending over the past six years in an
intuitive way using an array of maps, timelines and graphs.

On New Year’s Eve there was an announcement about making existing UK local spending reports more detailed, more comprehensive and easier to query:

Local Spending Reports provide information about how public money is being spent in local areas including money going to police and fire services, transport and health.

This is all crucial information enabling people to see how their taxes are being put to use. But at the moment if people want to see not only what is being spent but what that money is delivering they would need to trawl through an array of different data, reports and statistics.

John Denham is clear that improving the quantity and quality of data in the public domain will not only increase transparency but will also be key to improving efficiency and securing better value for money.

Changes are therefore being proposed to improve the way that local spending reports are produced and presented. At the moment they exist as a series of excel spreadsheets. From next summer they will be published online in a clear and user friendly format that will enable the data to be easily interrogated.

The first UK local spending report (for 2006-7) was published earlier last year. Details of this are available at:

The first of those is now online, and it’s a good one, the 2006-07 Local Spending Report for England, published in April 2009. What is this? In a nutshell it lists the spending by category for every council in England at the time of the report (there have been a couple of new ones since then).

Now this report has been available to download online if you knew it existed, as a pretty nasty and unwieldy spreadsheet (in fact the recent report to Parliament, Making local public expenditure data public and the development of Local Spending Reports, even has several backhanded references to the inaccessibility of it).

However, unless you enjoy playing with spreadsheets (and at the very minimum know how to unhide hidden sheets and read complex formulae), it’s not much use to you. Much more helpful, I think, is an accessible table you can drill down for more details.

He’s done a great first pass at making this data easier to understand. To see what he’s done so far see:

  • While this is currently experimental, in the future he plans to make it easy to export data in XML/JSON as well as to create more sophisticated visual representations of the data.

For anyone who is interested, we’ve also started a CKAN group for collecting data on UK public finance:

  • We’ve also started a ‘reading list’ for key official documents and secondary sources on UK Government finance on the OKF wiki:

If you’re interested in helping out with any of this – please get in touch!

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.

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