The government is obstructing a bill aimed at establishing a new website for information on public sector spending.
The bill, which originated in the House of Lords, is now being led by Conservative MP David Gauke. It would require the Treasury to create a government expenditure website, as well as giving the government the power to extend it to other public sector bodies, but the government belives it would cost too much.
Debating the issue in Parliament on 29 June, Gauke said the information should be made more easily accessible to improve transparency and enable people to engage in important public debates. "What better way of providing information is there than putting the details of public expenditure on to a single website, where people can study it and follow the money to see how government spending is done?" he said.
Comparing the site to a US initiative currently under way, whereby any federal expenditure in excess of $25,000 must be recorded and the details made available on a website accessible by the public, Gauke admitted that cost would be a key concern. However, he suggested that such a site could yield savings by reducing the number of freedom of information requests and parliamentary questions.
"More substantially, given the greater scrutiny for which the bill provides, we would get better value for money," added Gauke. "Some of the most egregious examples of government waste would be reduced because of the pressure that transparency would bring to bear on the government and the civil service."
Responding for the government, Cabinet Office minister Gillian Merron said the bill was unrealistic on the grounds of cost. Outlining the amount of public spending data already available through various websites, she said that "work is already under way in the Treasury to expand further the quantity of expenditure information on the public website, as well as to restructure the information to make it easier to navigate and search".
She added that the bill was in contradiction to Sir David Varney's review of public service delivery, which was published in December last year. Quoting from the report, she said it recommends: "A freeze on the development of new websites providing citizens or business e-services created by departments, agencies and non-department public bodies."
Labour MP Andrew Miller said the big cost was not building the tool but flowing data into it. "That could only be made feasible through a great deal more integration between operating systems in government departments, whereby information from different systems could be integrated at the press of a button," he said.
"That would take a leap of faith on the part of opposition parties, all of which expressed concern, reservations and opposition to the centralising of data as envisaged in the Transformational Government white paper."
Conservative MP Robert Goodwill said the bill was a "no brainer" and that by placing the information into the public domain via the single website, citizens would do "the hard work of finding out what they want to know".
The decision to progress the bill has been deferred to the next sitting on 19 October.
This article was originally published at Kablenet.
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