Armchair Auditor interview with Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4 PM

13 August 2010

In the BBC radio car

In the BBC radio car

Today, Eric Pickles and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) released their spending data for April 2009-March 2010. (My easy-to-download zip file is here.) I was interviewed by Eddie Mair on Radio 4’s PM programme about my Armchair Auditor website and software which helps people to understand how their councils and the government spends their money. Scrub forward to 17:30 for the start of the story. Thankfully I didn’t get the Paxman vs. Howard treatment.

To his credit, Mr Pickles never misses an opportunity to assert that there is an army of armchair auditors poised to descend on government spending data, pull it apart and send it back with a smile and a thoughtfully-reduced budget. Right now the truth is that we’re probably closer to being a little platoon of armchair auditors than an army, but great things come from small beginnings. There’s no point trying to change society unless you’re an optimist.

Excepting the hardcore of open data activists, most people think that 10,000-row spreadsheets of government spending data are dull and inaccessible. They’re right, of course. But you don’t have to go very far to find someone that cares passionately about government spending – whether they think it’s too much, not enough or just in the wrong places. Give those people great tools to surf their way through the froth of data, make sense of it and get into informed conversations with their neighbours and the people spending the money and you’re creating a genuine power shift from the government to the governed. By this time next year we can know more about public spending than most people in government knew about it this time last year. That’s a big deal.

All the local councils should be publishing their spending data by January. The central government departments and quangos will be doing it too. Armchair Auditor is free software. Find a Ruby developer in your area and set it up for yourself. Hack it to meet your local needs. Join the army.