FLINTSHIRE Council chiefs have been quizzed over the use of costly consultants.

The audit committee pressed chief executive Colin Everett and head of finance Kerry Feather, among others, on their plans to cut  the cost of consultants.

Earlier this year the authority came under fire for spending £1.25 million on consultants in the first half of 2010/11.

Mr Everett said consultants were only used when specialist skills were unavailable among the council staff, which numbers more than 8,000.

He said using consultants had resulted in “significant” efficiencies with consultants saving the council a six figure sum in helping to set up a shared partnership with Wrexham Council involving occupational health.

Mr Everett said consultants also provided a transfer of skills.

“They leave skills with people we employ so we can stand on our own two feet.”

An internal report recommended officers should look again at the rules on hiring consultants.

It says the authority’s contract procedure rules were not detailed or strong enough and needed to be rewritten with clear and comprehensive corporate procedures and guidance.”

Confidential papers obtained by the Leader revealed £140,000 alone was paid to consultants Optimus in the second half of 2010/11 towards the single status project.

Mr Everett agreed the process was not consistent enough at the moment but maintained it was rigorous.

He said: “If we do employ a contractor a number of times we then look at whether it is possible to employ someone to do the job for less money.”

Heads of department said they used competitive tendering when looking for consultants and only employed them if members of staff do not have the skills.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Halford told the Leader: “It was a useful meeting and the directors were helpful and forthcoming.

“Some of them frankly admitted they didn’t know all the consultants employed by their department but said they were keen to keep close tabs.”

Ms Feather said the meeting provided a useful forum to discuss the reasons for the use of consultants, the arrangements in each department for engagement and monitoring of performance and outcomes, and to answer questions from members.

She said: “Analysis had shown that 35 per cent of Flintshire’s expenditure on consultants was funded by external organisations who were supporting the projects for which consultants had been engaged.”