I’m in the south east for a couple of days doing training with Trinity Mirror titles in Reading and Guildford.
On the front page of one of the newspapers, the Surrey Advertiser, is a story which sets out a plan by Woking Council on councillors’ data which, if delivered as promised, is a giant leap forward in terms of transparency.
According to the story in the Ad, within three months a whole host of information about councillors will be available online.
The sort of information being promised includes election expenses, gifts received as a councillors, outside employment, any contracts between the council and the councillor, any membership of interest groups or lobby groups, any membership of public bodies or charities and any details of tenancy arrangements with the council.
Much of this information – including the outside employment, gifts received and membership of groups – is already documented in registers of interest which are held at councils. However, they are normally kept hidden away from view and generally tend only to be accessed by the public, so making them easy to view online is a big step forward – not only for journalism, but for transparency in general.
The election expenses incurred by local councillors at election times also threatens to be fascinating – whether that will include failed candidates is not detailed in the story. While the figures involved are likely to be much lower than the amounts spent by general election candidates, anything which reveals how much people spend, and how they spend it, in the pursuit of power threatens to be a goldmine for journalists – and great news for the public.
Woking today – the rest of the UK tomorrow?