Town Hall ‘experts’ cost revealed

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WIGAN Council spent £1m on consultant fees last year.

Between October 2010 and October 2011, the town hall called on the services of more than 110 external experts, a Freedom of Information request from the Evening Post has revealed.

It also shows the cash-strapped council, currently facing £66m Government spending cuts and hundreds of job losses, paid one consultant £1,100 per day for their services.

The consultants were employed in projects including outdoor education, computing, Foundation diplomas, school improvement, music, City Challenge work, English Language and management expertise.

Many were health professionals employed in the fields of speech therapy, wellbeing, autism, fostering, family and childcare issue, mental health, drugs, behavioural support, sign language, special education and bereavement.

Town hall projects that were judged to need the help of consultants last year have included the Health and Wellbeing Board Development, Waste Disposal Procurement Technical Advisers, Waste Disposal Procurement Project Management, Waste Disposal Procurement Legal Advisers, Major Schemes Engineering Design, Master plan/economic impact of major schemes. Leader of the Opposition Coun Gary Wilkes said consultants played a big part in most large organisations like Wigan Council.

He said: “Most local authorities employ consultants from time to time. What we must be mindful of is how much they charge for their services and is it value for money? Sometimes employing a consultant can actually save the council money.”

However, he said that in his personal view consultants are over used by local councils.

Chairman of the Wigan Conservative Federation Michael Winstanley said: “The council is constantly complaining about the amount of money being cut by central government, so it is astonishing they can find a £1m to spend on external consultants.

“It is also staggering that some of these consultants can charge up to £1,100 per day.

“I am sure most people in Wigan would like that kind of daily rate for their work.

“Given the level of expertise available within the council, the question does need to be asked why they have to rely on external consultants?

“We need to remember that every £1 spent on external consultants was a £1 less spent on front-line services to the people of Wigan.”

But the chief executive elect of the council Donna Hall said the council only used external consultants for specialist services where they do not employ people full-time, such as complex IT projects or specialist engineering schemes.

She said: “We would always use the most cost-effective method and aim to use our own staff first and foremost, but where we do not have the expertise we would need to go outside and negotiate the best price for the work.”

She added the figure of just under £1m needed to be considered in the context of the council’s entire operation with an annual budget of more than £900m to provide services for one of the largest metropolitan boroughs.

She said: “In many instances, using the services of a consultant makes sound economic sense.

“If we had to take people on a permanent basis every time we began a new project, it would cost us considerably more in the associated costs.

“Consultants provide specific, expert knowledge that can assist the council to bring in many millions of pounds worth of funding to help us complete major projects.”

Ms Hall said innovations such as the Life Centre, Leigh Sports Village, the regeneration of Bickershaw, Saddle Junction and others helping to create jobs and investment opportunities in our borough may not have been possible without the work of consultants.