Have you heard of the Bureau Of Investigative Journalism?
“The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that holds power to account. Our aim is to inform the public about the realities of power in today’s world. We are particularly concerned with the undermining of democratic processes and failures to accord with fair, legal and transparent practices”.
Its latest investigation shows yet again that there are major issues with government transparency at a local level. Together with dozens of volunteers, our Bureau Local team attempted to exercise a right that the public has by law to inspect the accounts and related documents of councils for two weeks of every year. The results were shocking.
To test the law, Bureau Local volunteers submitted requests to nearly 50 local authorities asking to inspect documents, such as contracts and invoices, relating to the use of private consultants during multimillion-pound property deals, a subject the Bureau is investigating.
Various councils either failed completely to respond or refused to comply. Others provided information that was heavily redacted. Many claimed that releasing the requested information could cause financial damage to the councils and their business partners.
Here’s a document provided to them by Haringey Council
Access to this information matters. Being able to check how our councils are spending their money, which companies they are paying and for what services, is absolutely essential to prevent abuse of power and ensure a functioning democracy.
With the help of dozens of network members, the Bureau Local has spent over a year getting to grips with the complicated subject of council finances. We revealed (among other things) the mass sell-off of public spaces and the billions of pounds-worth of risky investments putting frontline services at risk. More than 80 local stories have been published to date. This scrutiny and community involvement is having a positive impact – top down and bottom up.
UK politics is currently overwhelmed with unknowns. But amid the chaos, we mustn’t overlook serious issues which will affect our lives whatever the outcome. Councils are in financial crisis and social inequality is growing. Collaborative, community-led investigative journalism is more important than ever.
One subject that ought to be included in the work of the Bureau is that of the Beacon Park Golf Course and the landfill scandal by Oakland Golf and Leisure
with the connivance of WLBC and Serco Leisure Operating Limited (SLOL), which is hidden under a “Commercial in Confidence” claim. WLR eventually discovered SLOL had received landfill royalties intended for the West Lancashire Leisure Trust. We are still awaiting an investigation that could disclose the full amount taken from West Lancashire council tax payers.