Consultants fees 'waste of money'

A COUNCIL was accused of wasting taxpayers' money last night after it emerged it had spent £40,000 bringing in an external troubleshooter to solve its refuse collection crisis.

A COUNCIL was accused of wasting taxpayers' money last night after it emerged it had spent £40,000 bringing in an external troubleshooter to solve its refuse collection crisis.

The expert will work three days a week for the next six months, helping to sort out Colchester's chronic green waste collection problems.

John Simpson, Colchester Borough Council's officer in charge of street services, has defended the decision - saying he needed "additional management capacity" that was not available in-house.

But opposition leaders have launched a stinging attack on the Conservative-run authority for spending money on expensive experts instead of using their own staff.

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Tim Young, the Labour group leader, said "far too much" was spent on outside resources and criticised the decision to hire former senior local government officer, David Axom, to rescue the borough's "failing" green waste collection services.

"All they need to do is ask the users of the service - spending this money is ridiculous," he added.

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Colin Sykes, the Liberal Democrat group leader on the council, added: "We must have the expertise in-house, I just can't understand it. If we were able to run this service two years ago without help and now we can't, it is a slap in the face. It's an awful lot of money."

But Mr Simpson said last night Mr Axom would bring expert project management skills to sort out the current problems.

"I've made these arrangements with a very senior former local government officer because we want a fresh pair of eyes to have a look at the operations," he added.

"It's not a slap in the face. Our recycling has increased by 52% in line with our cleanest and greenest aspirations."

Recently, the council was so overwhelmed in its efforts to collect green waste that it had to limit the amount of garden rubbish binmen would pick up to three bags per fortnight.

The move prompted fury from opposition groups, who together called a special council meeting and asked the Tories to reverse the decision.

Both Lib Dem and Labour councillors insisted at last Friday's extraordinary meeting that the change in policy would mean abandoning one of the council's key strategic commitments, to try and become the cleanest and greenest borough in the county.

But the Tories refused to back down, saying that employing the resources needed to pick up the green waste using the current system would see a drastic hike in council tax and could even lead to the authority having its budget capped by central Government.

The council spends hundreds of thousands of pounds a year hiring consultants to advise on a range of special projects.

More than a million pounds has been spent on major regeneration projects including the new Garrison, Cuckoo Farm, St Botolph's and the proposed Visual Arts Facility, although much of this has been recovered through grants.

Nick Taylor, the council's finance portfolio holder, admitted too much money had been spent in the past, but insisted he was looking at reducing the spend.

He said: "We want to reduce the amount spent on consultants, but with all the cuts we've been forced to make, we're pretty much down to the wire already.

"It's actually cheaper to bring people in experts on a short term basis than having expensive people employed sitting around doing nothing most of the time.

"There are times when we just don't have the expertise or time in-house and our mangers need help."

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