The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to make government accountable. But in order to make it work, you have to know what information needs to be eked out, and you have to have the stamina to go through the process of putting in FOI requests – often against strong bureaucratic resistance.
I suggest, instead, that every cheque that government bodies issue, and every contract they sign, should go straight up on the web. Not just for departments of state and Parliament, but for local authorities, education authorities, NHS boards, even school governors' boards. Yes, it would be a mass of disjointed information. But it would be the raw material by which newspapers and the concerned public could spot corruption and waste.
It would encourage a wider range of people to stand for election to public bodies like local councils: many people, looking at where the money goes, might well conclude that they could spend it more wisely. And when they are elected, they would be much keener on taking responsibility for the spending, rather than just letting the hired professionals get on with it. After all, their decisions would be in the spotlight.
Perks, and contracts to 'friendly' suppliers, would be exposed. If we want to root out corruption in other governments, we should lead by example and expose it in our own. And businesspeople too, could look at how much public bodies pay for things and tell them – or us – if they could be bought a lot cheaper. So government contracting would become much more competitive.
At last we could see, openly, exactly where our money is going, which councillors are awarding contracts to their friends, and how much of our cash goes on MPs' perks. Isn't that a better, more honest way to run government than making people fight for such information?
Dr Eamonn Butler's new book, The Rotten State of Britain, is published later this month.