Since 2011, all councils have been required to publish expenditure on items over £500. At the CIJ Summer School this year, Paul Francis and Ted Jeory explained how to turn this information into a story…
What is ‘expenditure’?
- Individual invoices
- Grant payments
- Expense payments
- Payments for goods and services
- Credit notes
- Transactions with other public bodies
But, there is no requirement to publish the context or narrative of these expenditures, which can be a problem for journalists.
Another issue journalists face is the sheer volume of data and information provided, as well as the crude presentation of this. Freedom of Information requests can be used to discover more detail and context of the expenditure. “Don’t jump to conclusions without finding out the full story first”, says Jeory.
Expenditure isn’t the only angle to follow
Francis and Jeory gave three top tips to get the best stories from local councils:
- Council websites provide basic but crucial information. Make sure you use this simple source.
- Attend council meetings. Get to know the local councillors. You can even live tweet from meetings and get tip offs for stories from them.
- Look at a councillor’s ‘register of interests’. This shows information about councillors, such as who employs them and what properties they own.
Overall, “investigations and scrutiny of local councils are good, but you need to tell a story”, said Francis. Visit ‘Trial by Jeory’ to read the editor’s investigations into local councils on his personal blog.