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Council publishes expenditure details

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Every transaction over £500 in October, November and December has been listed on the council website

WEST Berkshire Council has published details of every item of its expenditure over £500, including how much it spent on laundry fees, fairtrade food, and a wrestling entertainment firm.

Every transaction over £500 spent by the council in October, November and December 2010, has been listed on the council's expenditure page on its website, and also listed are payment details of every service the council provides, from elections to bin collections.

Council chiefs must now show a monthly itemised list of how it spends taxpayers money to improve transparecy and openness, at the behest of the Government communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Individual payments such as the £708 insurance payment paid to Claim Experts Limited in October, the £599 spent on fairtrade food in November, and the £732.60 in “professional fees” paid to CSF Wrestling are listed alongside catch-all headings such as “equipment rentals,” which accounted for £31,697.35 paid to Kent County Council in three installments.

Not all information is listed, some is excluded under the Data Protection Act and because it involves children in care.

The leader of West Berkshire Council, Graham Jones (Con, Lambourn) said: "Offering local people the chance to understand more about how the council operates is always a good thing and we are continually looking at ways of improving the data we make available.

"I therefore welcome this publication of our spending as another way in which residents can understand what the council does. The figures make it clear to see that the greatest proportion of our expense is for the most vulnerable, for example on care agencies and school transport providers."

The council spent £122,768.86 on consultant fees, and £3,693,703 on private contractors in December, the majority of which came under the adult social care heading, which has recently been singled out as a frequently overspending department.

The list also revealed the council spent half a million pounds on agency staff, which covered a spectrum of roles, from nursing care to telecommunication positions, over the three months.

Shadow finance spokesman David Rendel (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said the release of the information was an empty gesture.

“It's a silly political gesture which is pretty meaningless. The council may have spent money on equipment it didnt use, which happens everywhere, but things like that are not listed.”

“If the council really wanted to show transparency it could do a much better job, but they have made it so indigestible it is almost impossible to read."

Richard Garvie, community organiser for West Berkshire Labour Party said: "It's simply a list of numbers and where the money goes to. We would like to see what the money was actually spent on in addition to the data published."

The publication of the data comes as the council must cut around £11m from it's budget over the next year.

An announcement over the 2011/12 budget is expect to be made in the coming weeks.

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