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Weekly forces council to back down over audit

A weekly newspaper reporter fought a week-long battle with a local council to expose its members’ expenses and mileage claims.

Under the Audit Commission Act, all councils must open up all their accounts for 20 days in the summer.

But when Lucy Buckland of the Hounslow and Brentford Times attempted to take advantage of the measure, Hounslow Borough Council initially refused to hand over the material.

Instead, she was handed a spreadsheet and told she could not see detailed figures or receipts

After a week of legal arguments, the council finally handed over a box full of the original receipts and mileage claim forms.

It resulted in a front-page story about a catalogue of expense claims for luxury hotel stays, expensive dinners and European flights.

Said Lucy: “I think more reporters should know about these smokescreens councils use to stop reporters getting access to accounts.

“They would never have stopped us but they could have refused until the 20-day window had passed.”

  • News agency Orchard News publishes a list of when local authorities are opening their books to the public.

    Many audits have already closed for this year, but some are still open. More details are available here.


    Richard Orange (19/08/2009 12:24:50)
    As well as the Audit Commission Act, the Local Authorities (Members Expenses) Regulations also compel a local council to keep a record of each and every payment (with a description) available for public inspection, at any time of the year.
    This regulation, however, does not apply to police authorities, and journalists should use the audit inspection ‘window’ to request sight of elected members’ expenses claims (and of course compare them with claims submitted to other councils).

    Dave Collins (19/08/2009 12:44:24)
    Interestingly enough, i seem to remember the other local paper in that area – the Hounslow Chronicle – published details of Hounslow councillors’ expenses about a month earlier through a simple FOI request I believe.
    Reporters need to know not to just wait for these windows to take advantage of transparency laws…

    Dave Collins (19/08/2009 12:45:54)
    Have found the article I mentioned above – the main councillor concerned is really taking the mickey- no wonder I remembered it!

    John (20/08/2009 12:16:52)
    And here is the Hounslow Times preaching to us…