Data: Why Openlylocal has to be part of any council reporter’s toolkit

Southern Cross - a crisis which spread, and which can be tracked through data

Council spending data is something that has been available, in theory, since the start of the year.

The rush by the government to make councils publish the information has led to some confusion, with councils seemingly all releasing their data in different formats, with different levels of data published.

Ongoing uses for it for journalists are still to emerge – other than the obvious useful resource to scan which companies councils are spending money with.

The OpenlyLocal website was set up by journalist Chris Taggart to find ways to make councils more accountable, using open data feeds to make this possible.

Many councils provide their spending as a data feed as well as in PDF or Excel format. In total, 158 councils currently do this, and Openlylocal makes it possible to search the data at these councils by supplier name.

This has the potential to be a very valuable tool to journalists. Using Southern Cross as an example, it’s possible to find dozens of councils which spend large sums of money with Southern Cross.

Another story to hit the headlines recently was the plan by Capita to move IT support jobs to India. These IT support jobs were originally Birmingham City Council jobs, moved into the private sector.

A quick search of ‘Capita’ in Openlylocal throws up many councils working with Capita. While there are many arms of Capita, it does at least provide a start to finding a local angle on a national story.

It took me a while to get just how valuable OpenlyLocal’s tool for council spending could be – but the more I play with it, the more I think it’s the one example we have so far of councils becoming accountable through the availability of their spending.


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