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David Cameron: More people engaged in local life means local politics revitalised

In a speech to the Conservative Councillors' Association Conference in Warwickshire, David Cameron said:

"Today, I want to make two announcements.

The first is on individual neighbourhood budgets.

There is a strong case for more funding to be delegated to individual ward councillors to spend on local community priorities.

Many councils already do this.

Westminster City Council has announced that it will give each ward an annual budget of £100,000 to spend on local projects.

They must consult with local people and will be judged at election time.

That's real democracy.

That's real accountability.

Just as we think councils are better placed than Whitehall to decide what is best for individual area…

…so surely ward locally-elected ward councillors are better placed to judge what is needed in their neighbourhood.

They know what their streets need.

They know what individual residents want.

And they'll know how to get things done.

We won't be like the Government and mandate this change - say this is now how it must be done.

But be in no doubt where I stand - I think this is right, and I encourage you all to go back to your councils and see if you can make this happen.

The second announcement I want to make today is about information.

For decades, information, power and control have been monopolised by well meaning public officials.

Now, because of the internet and dynamic change in our broader culture, we can consign this top-down model to history.

We're entering a post-bureaucratic age, where true freedom of information is making possible a new world of people power, responsibility, citizenship, choice and local control.

One of the best examples is crime mapping.

In cities all over America, police forces regularly publish information about crimes in their area.

What type of crime, when it happened, and where.

Anyone can take this information and overlay it on an online map.

This gives the public unprecedented information about crimes in their local area.

And it gives social entrepreneurs, drugs charities, and a whole host of organisations to pick out hotspots, see what needs doing and transform neighbourhoods.

But look at our Government at home.

It's still bureaucratic, still top-down and still old-world.

It still thinks it knows best and that it should keep all the information.

If you don't believe me, try getting a supposed freedom of information request on important issues like exactly how taxpayers' money is being spent.

It's next to impossible.

This is bad for democratic accountability.

And it stifles the sort of social innovation that we see happening in America.

We Conservatives must be different.

Indeed, because of our instinctive scepticism of bureaucracies and our belief in human potential, we are different.

That's why we have introduced a House of Commons bill that will require the government to publish - online and accessible to all - every single item of expenditure over £25,000.

It already happens in the US.

They call it "Googling Your Tax Dollars".

And it's already strengthening democratic accountability and promoting government transparency.

Today, I want to set out for the first time how I want to extend this approach to local government.

At the moment, local government bodies must provide the public with information about the services they provide, what goes on in council meetings and how councillors have voted on specific issues.

Sure enough - you all do this.

But the information isn't published in a standardised way.

Some councils use adverts in newspapers.

Others use their own magazines.

And others publish the information on their website.

Because you all present your information differently, it's impossible for the public, charities or private companies to effectively collate this data, compare and contrast your performance and hold you to account.

That's why the Government relies on expensive and bureaucratic schemes to try and hold local government to account.

Best Value.

Comprehensive Performance Assessments.

Comprehensive Area Assessments.

We will turn that approach on its head.

We will require local authorities to publish this information - about the services they provide, council meetings and how councillors vote - online and in a standardised format.

That way, it can be collected and used by the public and third party groups.

And this move will be accompanied by relaxing controls which force councils to pay to publish statutory notices.

That way, we will actually reduce local government costs.

I don't expect this to happen overnight.

It will take time to implement all the standardisation and bring everything online.

But it is so important that it does happen - because it will make you more accountable to your residents.

Let me explain.

All MPs in Westminster know about a website called 'theyworkforyou'.

It wasn't set up by the Government.

It doesn't cost the taxpayer any money.

And it doesn't cost the earth to run.

Indeed, while BBC Parliament costs £1 per viewer per month…

…theyworkforyou runs at just 1p per user.

But what it does do is use publicly available information to let constituents find out - easily and quickly - exactly how their MP voted on certain issues, how many speeches they make, and how long it takes them to reply to their questions.

In short, it's a nightmare for people like me.

But it holds me to account and is brilliant for my constituents.

By making local data standardised and freely accessible, it would be possible to create a town-hall equivalent of 'theyworkforyou'…

…possible to give your residents the same power as my constituents…

…and possible to drive this accountability further down the food chain.

What's more, this freeing up of local data means it will be possible for public to properly compare local government services themselves.

To find out what's going on next door.

To judge councils against each other for their performance and services they provide.

Those who say 'you can't get rid of the CPA, you can't get rid of Best Value' just don't get it.

This is the future.

This is local councils - you - being judged, being held accountable, being evaluated by your residents.

Not by some mandarin in Whitehall.

That's real democracy.

That's real people power.

But the benefits of setting local government data free go far beyond democratic accountability.

It serves a community function too.

By standardising this data, it can be used by anyone's website, anytime, anyplace to flag up the services you are putting on and get that information to the people who most need it.

Let me give you some examples.

Take the young kid looking for something to do at the weekend.

By standardising this information online, it will be for companies or charities to build Facebook or Bebo widgets that keep them updated on when the leisure centre or local swimming pool is open or when the youth centre is holding a special night.

Or what about the pensioner looking to join an adult learning course?

They won't have to go to individual websites and find out what's going on.

By standardising this information, it's possible for the websites like Saga to collate the information from individual councils and make it all available in one place.

The same is true for a young parent looking for local crèche facilities.

This information revolution will allow websites like mumsnet.com to flag up what is available, where and at what time and save people the bother of trawling individual websites.

Making councils more accountable by giving your residents greater power.

But allowing you to get the information out there quickly and effectively.

Setting local information free really is the future.

Now, I know some people - some sitting here today - will be very wary.

It just causes hassle, they will say.

Only journalists and busybodies will actually use the information, they will add.

But it would be a mistake for anyone to reject this approach simply because it is so radical.

History shows us that when it comes to opening up government, what are often seen as radical steps can quickly become part of our political culture.

Until 1771, anyone who published any comments made in Parliament was considered to have breached Parliamentary privilege, and could be heavily fined.

So newspaper editors had to resort to printing these debates under false names, such as the Senate of Magna Lilliputia or the Proceedings of the Lower Room of the Robin Hood Society.

But today an official record of exactly what goes on in Parliament of is integral to democratic accountability.

And I believe in the future, the freedom of local information - online and standardised - will be integral to local government.

It will engage more people in the business of local civic life.

And more people engaged in local life means local politics revitalised.

And a local politics which is invigorated means local communities and neighbourhoods that are transformed."

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