< Transparency code for smaller authorities

Transparency code
    … for smaller authorities


Part 1: Introduction

Policy context
  1. This Code is issued to meet the Government’s desire to place more power into citizens’ hands to increase democratic accountability. Transparency gives local people the tools and information they need to hold local public bodies to account.
  2. The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 sets out a new audit framework for local public authorities which are currently covered by the Audit Commission regime. Under the new audit framework smaller authorities, including parish councils, internal drainage boards, charter trustees and port health authorities, with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000 will be exempt from routine external audit. In place of routine audit, these smaller authorities 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.
  3. The Government considers that publication of the items in this Code will provide the local electorate and ratepayers with a clear picture of the activities of these smaller authorities. Most of this information is already produced by the majority of smaller authorities with a turnover not exceeding £25,000, and the Government therefore considers that compliance with this Code will not place a significant burden on these authorities.
  4. Application
  5. This Code is issued by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in exercise of his powers under section 2 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (“the 1980 Act”), as amended by section 38 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, to issue a code of recommended practice as to the publication of information by local authorities about the discharge of their functions and other matters which he considers to be related.
  6. This Code does not replace or supersede the existing legal framework for access to and re-use of public sector information provided by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (as amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012), Environmental Information Regulations 2004, the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005 and Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) Regulations 2009.
  7. This Code applies to the following types of authorities in England with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000: parish councils, internal drainage boards, charter trustees and port health authorities (“smaller authorities”). Turnover is defined as the higher of an authority’s gross income for the year and its gross expenditure for the year.1
  8. Data protection
  9. The Government believes that local transparency can be implemented in a way that complies with the Data Protection Act 1998. Where smaller authorities are disclosing information which potentially engages the Data Protection Act 1998, they must ensure that the publication of that information is compliant with the provisions of that Act. The Data Protection Act 1998 does not restrict or inhibit information being published naming councillors, members or senior local authority officers who have taken certain decisions, because of the public interest in the scrutiny of such senior individuals and decision makers. The Data Protection Act 1998 also does not automatically prohibit information being published naming the suppliers with whom the authority has contracts, including sole traders, because of the public interest in accountability and transparency in the spending of public money.
  10. This Code complements existing provisions relating to public access to the decision-making process of smaller authorities. Smaller authorities should ensure that they continue to comply with any such provisions, and any subsequent legislation regarding local authority minutes, notices and agendas. Where information would otherwise fall within one of the exemptions from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, or Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) Regulations 2009 then it is in the discretion of the smaller authority whether or not to rely on that exemption or publish the data.2
  11. Commercial confidentiality
  12. The Government has not seen any evidence that publishing details about contracts entered into by smaller authorities would prejudice procurement exercises or the interests of commercial organisations, or breach commercial confidentiality unless specific confidentiality clauses are included in contracts. Smaller authorities should expect to publish details of contracts newly entered into – commercial confidentiality should not, in itself, be a reason for smaller authorities to not follow the provisions of this Code. Therefore, smaller authorities should consider inserting clauses in new contracts allowing for the disclosure of data in compliance with this Code.

  13. 1    Where authorities are maintaining their accounts on a receipts and payments basis, ‘expenditure’ should be read as ‘payments’ and ‘income’ should be read as ‘receipts’.

    2    The most relevant exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 are those relating to law enforcement, for example information which may prejudice a current fraud investigation, (section 31), personal data (section 40) and information provided in confidence (section 41).

< Transparency code for smaller authorities