Here’s an FOI many readers will be familiar: Finding out how much councils spending sending staff to awards ceremonies.
The Taxpayers Alliance set about finding out by submitting FOI requests to councils across the country. 433 were asked. Fewer than 40 failed to reply or refused.
Birmingham City Council was one of those to refuse. A spokesman told the Birmingham Mail:
“The council has determined that it is not possible to provide a response to the request.”
The issue here isn’t so much about the spending itself – that’s another argument – but the fact that so many other councils can provide the information, but Birmingham can’t.
Local MP Gisela Stuart said:
“This raises very serious questions about the transparency of the council’s accounting systems. If the council does not know how many events it goes to and how much they cost, how can taxpayers judge value for money?
“Is it incompetent or has it something to hide? We just don’t know.”
Spending data could help here. A quick search of Google for ‘site:birmingham.gov.uk filetype:pdf Emap’ and for ‘site:birmingham.gov.uk filetype:pdf hemming’ brings up the pdfs of spending data which references Emap – the publisher of the Local Government Chronicle, which runs one of the awards – and Hemming – which publishes the Municipal Journal. Some of that spending will be on subscriptions, but it’s a start.
If I can do that having not covered local government for five years and without access to the council’s accounts or the managers who will presumably have to approve awards spending, why can’t one of the largest councils in the country not try a bit harder?