I was fascinated by the decision by Eric Pickles to be ahead of the game and publish all of his department's spending over £500. At the moment it is a win-win situation for him. He gets to highlight some of the utter waste that there was under New Labour and provides an incentive for Councils to get on and publish.
Some of you may know that I was a Civil Servant for 14 years, working for the MoD. During that time I went on a few "jollies" that went under the banner of team building. Probably the one I questioned most was 3 days at Centre Parcs Longleat - where, to be fair, as well as team working exercises we carried out an examination of where our section (which was split into 3 locations across Britain) was going wrong in terms of communications and strategy and some useful stuff came out of it. Whilst value was gained from it - there can be no doubt that it didn't need to be at Longleat for that to be achieved. The point is, I think, let's not dismiss all of this sort of spending - the best thing is to look in detail and understand the benefits as well as the negative points (although massages cannot be justified!!!)
I also know that during my time as a Civil Servant there was a great deal of spending that just was not necessary; Budget holders were not allowed to carry over funding from one year to the next, so at the end of the financial year there was a tendency for money to be spent on unnecessary stuff rather than risk losing part of next year's budget through underspending. Hopefully more transparency will provide a disincentive to that sort of waste.
In the medium term, as Eric Pickles becomes responsible for what his department spends, this sort of publishing could cause problems but I am sure he is on top of that.
I have chased where Cambs County Council are with this and I am advised that we will start publishing spending data in October at the latest.