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Database of government spending to be opened up

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Previously unreleased information about government spending is due to be published as part of a drive to open up official data to the public.

The Treasury is to announce that it will make details available from its Coins database, which lists all expenditure across Whitehall.

Freedom of Information campaigners have long called for the move.

The government says transparency will put more emphasis on value for money.

It is one of a number of initiatives by the new government designed to increase openess and accountability.

Details of civil servants earning more than £150,000 were published last week, while information about all future government spending above £25,000 is due to become available from November.

Spending audit

The Combined Online Information System (Coins) contains a detailed analysis of state expenditure under more than 12,000 category headings.

It was at the centre of a political row last year when the then shadow chancellor George Osborne said he was being denied access to information on the database needed to plan future cuts in government spending.

At the time, ministers said that such information was not routinely published.

The Treasury has said it will release an "initial tranche of data" from the system on Friday.

It is thought this will cover spending in 2009-10, Labour's last year in office, but it is unclear how it will be categorised.

The government has ordered an audit of all spending commitments signed off since the start of the year, accusing former Labour ministers of irreponsibility in their final months and of making pledges that they would not be able to meet.

Transparency standards

The BBC's Martin Rosenbaum, who had a FOI request to gain access to the database refused last year, said many people would like to see its contents published.

Reasons given by the Treasury for turning down his request, he said, included the need to protect intellectual property rights, commercial confidentiality, the fact that some material was covered by specific exemptions and other details were already in the public domain.

Officials, he added, were concerned they could be inundated by inquiries about the complex information which they felt was open to misinterpretation.

No 10 has said the government must set "new standards for transparency" to demonstrate that it is properly accountable and that public bodies are as efficient as they can be, as ministers seek to get to grips with cutting record borrowing levels.

Officials say they will release details of the cost of all new central government contracts from January and local authorities will be required to disclose details of all spending above £500.

Universities Minister David Willetts told the BBC's Question Time programme on Thursday that the public were "entitled" to know this kind of information to "see where the money goes and spot where money is wasted".


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