Flintshire Council’s six-month bill for consultants: £1.25m

Reporter:

Hayley Collins and Matt Jones

FLINTSHIRE Council spent more than £1.25 million on consultants in six months, it has emerged.

More than 150 consultants were employed by the council in the first half of 2010, despite a total workforce of more than 8,000.

Community leaders will discuss the figures today after they came to light following an internal review launched by the council’s audit department.

Labour group deputy  leader Cllr Bernie Attridge branded the figures a disgrace, saying: “At a time when savage cuts are being made that mean staff jobs are at risk, I cannot believe we are spending this much on employing consultants.

“I personally feel we have a wealth of expertise within the council and I am convinced they could do the jobs we are employing consultants for.”

Cllr Attridge said his group had frequently raised the issue with senior council officials and claimed they had previously received assurances there would be limits on the amount spent on consultants.

He added: “I came into local government to help protect frontline services and not to see the pockets lined of consultants.”

Sarah Taylor, from union Unison, described the figure as “ghastly” and said consultants should work alongside existing staff and pass on their skills.

She said: “I welcome the report because it clarifies the situation is what we believe it to have been for a long time, which is there is an over-reliance on consultants, a lack of management at the point of engagement and a lack of measurement on the outcomes of achievement once the consultant has finished. Flintshire Council has just announced its budget; we have got libraries closing, we have some members facing the risk of redundancy and yet there doesn’t seem to be proper checks on the expenditure on external consultants.”

The figures, taken from the council’s accounts and yet to be verified by finance chiefs, confirmed £1m was spent between February 2009 and April last year.

Cllr Ian Roberts, chairman of the audit committee, described the figure as “high” and said the committee would be looking to ensure the appointments were justified. He said: “We need to ensure proper systems are in place to make sure we need these consultants.

“There is  a need to ensure value for money is being provided and that the correct processes have been followed in their appointments.”

Last year the council was blasted for paying one consultancy firm £400,000 over three years.

Committee member Cllr Billy Mullin said: “Consultants are under the microscope in the current climate. If we could do without them we would, but in certain situations we need their expertise.”

The audit report said to best utilise consultants their use “must be controlled by FCC management” and there were issues that “needed further work”.

Flintshire Council chief executive Colin Everett said: “In common with other councils ,consultants are engaged where it is not possible to retain specialist skills in-house, there is a capacity gap, an independent view is required or where required by an external grant funder such as the Welsh Assembly Government.

“Where consultants are engaged a detailed business case has to be made to ensure it represents value for money and that as an organisation we do not become over-reliant on consultancy support.”

See full story in the Leader

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