Westminster City Council hide the accounts

It is with regular monotony that Nutsville comes across Westminster Councils attempts to restrict the public and their own resident’s rights to know how and where money is spent, and more importantly received.

Councillors and officers are heaving a collective sigh of relief now that the open window for the great unwashed to examine and take copies of the Councils accounts under the Audit Commission Act 1998 has closed.

Let Nutsville explain……

The Audit Commission Act 1998.

Section 15 of the Act enables electors and taxpayers of a particular borough to inspect and make their own copies of council accounts. These rights of inspection extend beyond the authority supplying data spreadsheets, listing income and expenditure and such stuff. The act provides for the public right to see the detailed contracts, invoices, receipts, books and bills that relate to the accounts of the recent financial year, and to take copies.

It is a criminal offence for a council employee to obstruct anybody exercising their legal right to see these records for themselves.

The local councils are obliged to advertise the times and locations that the accounts are open to public scrutiny. They must give 14 (working) days’ notice. Authorities are also required to provide facilities for people to copy documents and records, (but may apply a ‘reasonable’ charge).

Remember that those files and documents exceed just a few spreadsheets, but allow an elector to get right down to the nitty-gritty, and examine documents relating to Council contracts and other such stuff normally hidden behind the ‘commercially sensitive’ excuse which is well rehearsed to those of you using Freedom of Information requests.

A recent case (1st October 2009 at the High Court) ruled that an authority cannot use the ‘commercial confidentiality’ excuse to prevent taxpayers from viewing contracts between private firms and councils.

The Judge said that ‘the obligation to pay local taxation through the rates is matched by the right given to ratepayers to an involvement in the process of ensuring the money is well spent’

So, this means that a local taxpayer or ‘interested party’ (see HTV-v- Bristol Council 2004) can demand much fuller and wider access to documents than that available under the Freedom of Information rules (which often gets squashed with the commercial sensitivity’ excuse.

However, as usual, there is a problem.

Each authority must stipulate a window of at least 20 days for inspection (and taking copies) of such documents.

As with all things in local government, there are exceptions where the dates of the 20-day inspection window are not revealed at all.

Remember that the local councils are obliged to advertise the times and locations that the accounts are open to public scrutiny. They must give 14 (working) days’. Many authorities satisfy their obligations to publicise the window either on their website or in the local papers. Some authorities do both.

Step forward the one local authority in London that remained silent on when this 20-day window occurs and broke the law by not advertising when the window was.

Westminster!

In case of any of you are interested, the window that Westminster keep secret was 30 July 2009 to 26 August 2009.

Not many people knew that….

HTV -v- Britsol City Council 2004

http://www.orchardnews.com/htvlegbcc.htm

http://thejournal.parker-joseph.co.uk/blog/_archives/2008/7/6/3779232.html

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3 Comments

BigArtOctober 20th, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Hmm, now this is interesting, recently I had a similar experience when inspecting a tender for intended works by my local council and was told I couldn’t take a copy as it was “commercially competitive” – not WCC in this case but that High Court ruling got me thinking…

Couldn’t point me in the right direction for a copy of that ruling could you?

Excellent work as ever.

BigArtOctober 20th, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Damn! Found the links under the article, top work for providing those.

Jeremy PackletideOctober 20th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

And without any ceremony Westminster managed to not only break the law, but deny their own electorate an opportunity to look at contracts and aggrements placed in their name.

The Council is but a flagship of a borough so corrupt in moral values its amazing the Councillors even show their faces.

And, principal amongst the corrupt, twisted, dishonest departments is Parking and their weasel knob polisher man in charge Cllr Chalkely, a man who clearly would have trouble looking after the school hamster and is not capable of running a bath.

Its enough to make a cat laugh.

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