Taxpayers' millions spend on consultants

PUBLIC bodies in Suffolk are spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash on dozens of consultants - at a time when many are considering axing jobs and services.

PUBLIC bodies in Suffolk are spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash on dozens of consultants - at a time when many are considering axing jobs and services.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the EADT has uncovered a widespread reliance on costly external experts by the county's health bodies, councils and police.

In just one year, nearly £5million was splashed out on a string of consultants, with one paid £10,000 to carry out a “cultural survey” and another handed £250,000 to help develop a new payroll system.

And, alarmingly, it appears some bodies are failing to keep tabs on the spiralling situation, with one council unable to provide complete details of its spending in the two months it was given to come up with the information.

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Last night, James Frayne, campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, criticised the money being paid out.

He said: "It's extraordinary that local authorities are spending so much of taxpayers' money on outside consultants.

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“Nothing better symbolises the cancerous waste at the heart of local authorities than the exploding bills on consultants. At a time when ordinary families are struggling to deal with a rise in the cost of living, this will only increase the pressure on them by driving council tax up even higher. Every local authority has a duty to cut waste and keep spending down to help local people.”

And Reg Hartles, of campaign group Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said: “I wouldn't have thought it was necessary to spend that much on outside consultants. It seems a bit excessive.

“You would've thought with the cross-section of skills within the authorities, they would have enough people to do these jobs. In certain fields, they could train their staff to learn these skills.”

But the public bodies last night united to defend their use of consultants, claiming they can help improve efficiency and offer expertise that could not be found elsewhere.

A spokeswoman for Mid Suffolk District Council said: “Relatively small councils, such as Mid Suffolk, do not have the strategic capacity for specialist work. Sometimes it is necessary to use flexible resources without having to commit to ongoing staffing.”

And Ray Herring, leader of Suffolk Coastal District Council, claimed they can help save money.

He said: “The effective use of consultants at different stages has assisted this council's desire to streamline its administrative processes, reduce bureaucracy and deliver over £6 million of savings and increased income over the last five years.

“We have a long-standing commitment to ensure the efficient use of our resources, to provide value for money to our council taxpayers, and keeping council tax increases to a minimum and there are times when consultants play a vital part to help us do that.”

Figures revealing the total spending on consultants, covering the financial year 2004-5, come at a time when many councils, PCTs and the police are struggling to balance their budgets.

Earlier this year, Suffolk County Council announced it was looking to axe more than 100 posts as part of a series of measures aimed at saving £24million.

Jobs are also under threat at hospitals in the region as PCTs grapple with multi-million pound debts.

AUTHORITIES last night claimed their spending on consultants is closely monitored and provides value for money.

Suffolk County Council spent more than £1.5million on hiring external experts in one year.

But Jane Storey, the authority's portfolio holder for resources, finance and performance, said the cash was wisely invested.

She said: "You wouldn't try to solve a complicated electrical problem yourself - you'd call in an experienced electrician. Using consultants can be much more cost-effective for us and council taxpayers.”

As well as providing unique skills and experience, she said they avoided the need to employ full-time staff and help the council function more efficiently.

The majority of organisations in the county also highlighted the benefits of allowing their staff to work alongside the consultants, allowing them to pick up new skills, and pointed out consultancy contracts are put out to tender to find the most cost-effective.

Although the majority of public bodies were able to provide the information within the 20 days allowed under the Freedom of Information Act, Suffolk West Primary Care Trust and Forest Heath District Council were unable to meet the deadline.

A spokesman for the PCT, said: “We apologise for not responding swiftly to the FOI request. We have a policy of being open and co-operative wherever possible and the Chief Executive is now investigating why the delays occurred on this occasion.”

He added experienced consultants are used to help draw up specialised care programmes at the PCT.

A spokeswoman for Forest Heath apologised for the delay in replying but denied it showed the council was failing to monitor its spending on consultants.

She said: “Each department monitors its own budgets, which includes budgets for consultancy work. The amount spent on consultants is reasonably accessible. However, because the request asked for specific information about who the consultants were and what they had been used for, this involved more in-depth investigation with individual departments.”

Spending on consultants in 2004-5

Suffolk County Council


Waveney District Council


Suffolk Coastal District Council


Forest Heath District Council


Babergh District Council


Ipswich Borough Council


St Edmundsbury Borough Council


Suffolk East PCTs


Suffolk Constabulary


Waveney PCT


Suffolk West PCT


Mid Suffolk District Council


What some of the money was spent on

Waveney District Council spent £44,581.40 on an “options appraisal”.

Suffolk Coastal council spent £225,804 on change management consultancy and £9,862 on a cultural survey.

Suffolk County Council spent £247,372.76 on project management and data mapping for a new payroll system.

Suffolk Constabulary spent £10,392.50 surveying members of public to assess service they provide.

East Suffolk PCT spent £10,228.37 on market research.

Ipswich Borough Council spent £48,000 on a review of the options for the future delivery of StreetCare Services.

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