Shepway District Council’s (SDC) spending data webpage explains that:
“For data protection reasons, payments to individuals have been redacted”
Instead of displaying redacted payments with text such as “Redacted personal information” in the supplier name field, Shepway DC has removed the name and left the field blank. This makes it difficult to assess whether it is a redacted supplier, or whether the blank is simply the same name as the supplier on the row above.
Over the six month period April – September 2016, 91 payments totalling £120,000 have no supplier name.
Blank supplier name By major category
Judging by the categorisation above, some or most of these “redacted” payments would appear to have been redacted inappropriately. The table below shows all the payments above £1,000 with a blank supplier name.
With the exception of miscellaneous grants, training expenses and apprenticeships, most of these payments appear to be to made to commercial suppliers. Indeed, when sorted by description, the largest single category is payments for “Professional advice and fees”, followed by repairs and maintenance to buildings/plant. (see below).
A peculiar observation concerning these redacted payments is that where the payment amounts exceed £1,000, there is no comma separator to denote thousands, (see page above), whereas for all the payments where the supplier name is shown, there is a comma separator for values above £1,000. This is suggestive of a manual manipulation of the data to remove these suppliers’ names, rather than a systematic redaction process. Any manual intervention to redact payments is prone to abuse, and also to human error, such as accidentally and inconsistently redacting suppliers that ought not be redacted, and displaying the names of individuals who are not commercial suppliers, and therefore whose names should have been redacted.
Major category not displayed as separate column
The latest guidance on publishing spending data1 has the following to say about machine readable formats
1 “Local transparency guidance – publishing spending and procurement information” – June 2015
In Shepway’s datasets, all three published formats present the records in blocks with empty lines and total lines in between major category headings such as “Commercial & Technical Servs”. This arrangement makes it inconvenient for data users to work with because to analyse the datasets they are obliged to add a new column and place each major category in that column and copy the text down until the beginning of the next category.
It would be much easier for those wishing to work with the data if the datasets could be published with the major category already in a separate column, as shown below, and without empty lines or total lines.
Spending displayed inclusive of VAT
When councils were first asked to publish spending data in 2010, the guidelines specified that the published values be exclusive of VAT. The initiative became a statutory requirement in October 2014. The latest guidance for practitioners document, which can be found at Local transparency guidance contains the following guidance on VAT
Shepway DC’s spending data webpage announces that spending is shown excluding VAT, which is correct. However, the datasets themselves indicate that the values are inclusive of VAT. If they do include VAT the files ought to be corrected and the correct versions published as version 2, to show to other users that they have been amended.
Top 30 suppliers by value – April to Sept 2016
The top 30 suppliers make up 80% of the £18 million paid over the six month period.
So there you have it. Data which appears to have been tampered with, Data with VAT included when it shouldn’t and names either not redacted or redacted when they should not have been. It’s clear to us that SDC didn’t read the guidance which belongs to the Transparency Code. So some of the Data is Dodgy Data