When The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based GIJN member, asked to see a contract between the North London borough of Haringey and property developers, its reporters were, well, a bit shocked to receive the heavily-redacted document below. This request was part of a drive by the UK nonprofit to test the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, which gives citizens and journalists the right to access the accounts and related documents of city councils and other local authorities.
The results of this test paint a disheartening picture. Volunteers sent requests to nearly 50 local authorities, asking to see documents relating to the use of private consultants during multi-million-pound property deals. Many officials refused to respond or sent heavily-redacted documents, frequently arguing that releasing this information could cause financial harm to them or their business partners.
Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, told TBIJ: “It’s critical that the public and press are allowed access to key documents about the finances of local authorities to ensure there is no place to hide for the misuse of public money.” Amen to that.