In February 2015 the Local Government Transparency Code was re issued to require local authorities to publish information about their social housing stock.
The Code was made under Section 3 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 which gives the Secretary of State the power to issue a code of practice about the publication of information by local authorities in England (as well as, amongst others, National Park Authorities, Fire and Waste Authorities and Integrated Transport Authorities) relating to the discharge of their functions. In October last year, Eric Pickles (the then Communities and Local Government Secretary) used this power to issue what was then an updated version of the Code.
As with the previous version, the re issued code requires quarterly publication of the same categories information namely:
Each individual item of expenditure exceeding £500 e.g. invoices, grant payments, expense payments, rent etc.
Government Procurement Card transactions
Part 2.2 of the code sets out nine sets of data, which must be published annually. This includes local authority land, grants to voluntary bodies, trade union facility time, parking information and senior salaries. Here a new category of data, about social housing assets, has been added.
Local authorities owning housing must now publish details (set out in paragraph 38 to 44) of the value of social housing stock that is held in their Housing Revenue Account. This information must be published on the first occasion not later than 1 September 2015 (based on the most up to date valuation data available at the time of publishing the information), then in April 2016 and every April thereafter.
The Government believes that local people are interested in how their authority manages the social housing assets they hold. The move will give people the information they need to ask questions of how their council is managing stock to ensure this is put to best use, including considering whether higher value, vacant properties could be used to fund the building of new homes and reduce waiting times.
We could see more developments in this area. As I said in my recent blog post about the future of FOI, the Conservatives are keener on transparency through such codes than through extending FOI. Their election manifesto says:
“Transparency has also been at the heart of our approach to government. Over the last five years, we have been open about government spending, provided access to taxpayer-funded research, pursued open data and helped establish the Open Government Partnership. We will continue to be the most transparent government in the world.”
Smaller councils, including parish councils have to comply with the Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities, which was published in December last year.
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