July 30, 2013 12:03 am

Website shows taxpayers where the money is spent

Taxpayers will be able to find out at the click of a mouse how much central government is spending on many services under an initiative designed to increase public scrutiny of expenditure.

Launching the online tool, Chloe Smith, Cabinet Office minister, suggested it would allow voters to join the hunt for savings by giving them an easy way to compare data between departments.

The move is part of a broader attempt to raise the quality of management information across government. Whitehall’s non-executive directors, led by Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP, have been dismayed at the failure of many departments to collect information in a standardised way.

It is also aimed at mitigating the federal structure of Whitehall, offering a relatively simple way of aggregating how much is being spent in areas such as procurement, consultancy and marketing.

Ms Smith said that Australia, the US and Canada had all attempted to find ways of making such information accessible to the public “but in terms of detail and interactivity we have gone further”.

The Audit Commission, which has performed the role of watchdog for spending by local government and the NHS, is to be abolished and ministers have spoken in the past of citizens taking up the cudgels in its place.

Ms Smith said the new website was not intended as a substitute for “correct and technical audit” but it amounted to “a whole new level of transparency”.

It will allow people to find out how much a head is being spent on a range of services and initiatives. They will discover, for example, that the NHS cost £519.11 per head of population in the first three months of this year while HS2, the controversial proposed high-speed rail link, cost each citizen £1.88 over the same period.

However, it will cover only the top 75 per cent of spending in each department, in order to avoid a data return so large that it would not be useful and which would put an unfair strain on Whitehall, said the Cabinet Office.

Stephen Kelly, the government’s chief operating officer, said: “Last year we saved £10bn but we know that to bring costs down further and achieve the lowest sustainable cost base for government we need to use data more effectively.”

By publishing better information and comparing departmental performance “alongside external benchmarks”, new ways would be found to save money for taxpayers, he added.

The web address is gist.cabinetoffice.gov.uk

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