Herald Opinion: Eastbourne Borough Council - transparency about spending detail welcomed

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AFTER the expenses scandals and austerity measures, people quite rightly want to know what every penny of the public purse is being spent on.

And when Communities Minister Eric Pickles last year announced he wanted local authorities to divulge details of all spending of more than £500, it was seen as a step in the right direction.

Yet Eastbourne Borough Council was this week named and shamed as one of the last local authorities in the country to comply with the ministerial command.

Not surprisingly, the authority’s advisers went into overdrive and within hours of the public criticism, the figures were at last online for all to see.

But, looking back, Eastbourne Borough Council has always been strangely reluctant to share details about its financial performance with residents.

Observers have frequently questioned why the council is coy about telling us, for instance, exactly how much the municipal theatres lose every year – a figure rumoured to be around £2 million.

We are told every year that Airbourne is worth millions of pounds to the town. How do we know? Similarly, extravagant claims are made about the value of the town being used as a backdrop by film companies. Certainly no harm, but how can we measure the true value?

The council certainly appears to be on top of its budget, having assured us that services will not be cut this year. But transparency about spending detail will be welcomed as an important step forward.

Eric Pickles has recognised that local people have a right to know how their council tax is spent. Eastbourne Borough Council’s belated revelations show the expenditure of more than £500 for January. But the authority is still not going as far as its counterparts in Hastings and Wealden which have disclosed all spending for the last financial year. That aside, we do not expect Eastbourne’s figures to include shocks or puzzles. But they will create interest, and there is a desperate need to encourage involvement by the electorate in the working of the local authority. And, who knows, there may well be people out there who can make positive suggestions as to how our money can be even better used.