In October 2014 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), published an updated version of the Local Government Transparency Code . This applies in England only and replaces the previous version. The code requires councils (as well as, amongst others, National Park Authorities, Fire and Waste Authorities and Integrated Transport Authorities) to proactively publish certain categories information (in Part 2 of the code) whilst also recommending that they go beyond the minimum (in part 3 of the code). Read more about the code here.
But what of smaller public authorities and parish councils? On 10th March 2014 the Government launched a consultation on a draft transparency code for such organisations, which will act as a substitute for routine external audit.
On 17th December 2014 the DCLG finally published the Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities. This code applies to the following types of authorities with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000:
- parish councils
- internal drainage boards
- charter trustees
- port health authorities
This code is issued to meet “the government’s desire to place more power into citizens’ hands to increase democratic accountability.” However it is published initially as recommended practice, although the Secretary of State told Parliament on 17th December that he intends to make the code mandatory by the start of the 2015 financial year.
The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 sets out a new audit framework for public authorities which are currently covered by the Audit Commission regime. Under this new framework smaller authorities will be exempt from routine external audit. In place of routine audit, they will be subject to the new transparency requirements laid out in this code. This will enable local electors and ratepayers to access relevant information about the authorities’ accounts and governance.
Part 2 of the code sets out the information to be published:
- all items of expenditure above £100 (see paragraphs 13 – 15);
- end of year accounts (see paragraphs 16 and 17),
- annual governance statement (see paragraphs 18and 19),
- internal audit report (see paragraphs 20 – 22),
- list of councillor or member responsibilities (see paragraph 23)
- the details of public land and building assets (see paragraphs 24 – 27)
- Minutes, agendas and meeting papers of formal meetings (see paragraphs 29 and 30)
The code states that the information specified must be published on a website which is publicly accessible and free of charge. This could be on the authority’s own website or that of the billing authority in its area (district or London borough or unitary council).
Ibrahim Hasan will be discussing both transparency codes in his forthcoming live and interactive one-hour web seminar.