MORE than £7million has been paid out to external consultants by Flintshire Council in the last three years.
The figures, released after a Freedom of Information request was submitted by the Leader, have been described as ‘very worrying’ by community leaders.
In the financial year 2012-2013, £1,788,917.66 was spent on consultancy fees, which was a reduction on the previous year, where £2,597,713.74 was spent in total.
In the 2010/2011 financial year, a total of £2,649,892.28 was spent.
Over the three-year period, £272,653.90 was funded by specific grants, meaning the net amount spent by Flintshire Council was £6,763,869.62.
Holywell councillor Gareth Roberts said: “It is quite a large number and the issue has been a concern from time to time.
“There are occasions that we have to get specialist advice, when we don’t have it ourselves but it doesn’t come cheap and when we have looked at it from time to time there have been cases where our full-time staff could have done it.
“In the budget it was stated that there would have to be cutbacks on the workforce, but if we get rid of certain experts then we’re going to have to pay consultants to make up for that, which is worrying.”
The revelation has come after Flintshire Council voted through the budget for the coming financial year, which will see £12 million of budget cuts.
As part of this, it is looking to cut £2 million from its senior management costs.
It is understood at least eight of its top 18 posts face the axe.
About 80 further non-senior management council posts will also go to save another £1.5 million from general workforce costs.
Cllr Roberts added: “Going back over the past few years, there were certain individual cases which many of us felt couldn’t be justified – with one occasion springing to mind where a consultant was paid more than the chief executive.
“This could be a real concern in the future if we have to get rid of more of the workforce.”
In January, the Leader reported that Wrexham Council spent £2.8 million on external consultants over the same time frame.
Labour councillor Ron Hampson, who is a member of Flintshire Council’s corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee, said: “There is a move to cut it because it has been quite high for some time. We are getting it down, it has been a problem in the past but there has been a great need to reduce it and do away with it.”
He said they could not afford to keep the levels as they were.
“When there are jobs that we’re restructuring, we certainly can’t afford to be keeping consultants and there has been a move to bring it down,” he said.
“We need to give full-time staff the preference – we can’t be bringing in consultants and losing staff.”
Helen Stappleton, head of human resources and development at Flintshire Council, said: “Flintshire Council, like many other private and public service organisations, engages consultants but only where specialist skills are required and are not retained in house, where an independent view is required or where there is a business case to ‘invest to save’ as part of major change programmes and initiatives.
“The council’s rules require detailed business cases to be provided to ensure the consultancy support represents value for money.
“The council has implemented greater rigour around its controls for engaging consultants over the last 18 months, coupled with planned cost-cutting actions and prudence and as a result, the numbers of consultants and associated costs have reduced significantly.
“There has been a 30 per cent reduction in expenditure for the financial year 2012/13 when compared with the previous year and the indications are that expenditure will have reduced further for the current financial year 2013/14.
“Overall, this level of expenditure is not excessive compared to other councils. Flintshire continues to scrutinise the use of consultants closely and to minimise costs.”