Council pays consultants £8.1m in a single year

Fees related to statutory repairs were among those which saw the bill soar.
Fees related to statutory repairs were among those which saw the bill soar.
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THE sum shelled out to consultants who are hired to help city council staff has soared by almost a quarter in only a year – sparking fears the bill will continue to balloon amid crippling public sector budget cuts.

Around £8.1 million was paid to consultancy firms including Deloitte, PWC and Ernst and Young in 2014-15 – up from £6.5m during the previous 12 months.

The jump in charges came as city chiefs fought to resolve issues such as the statutory repairs scandal and achieve money-saving reforms in procurement and IT.

Spending on consultants to support day-to-day services funded from the annual budget shot up even faster – from just under £3.8m to nearly £5.8m.

City leaders admitted the increase was significant but said there had been a series of major projects which required specialist support.

And they insisted that future spending would be closely tracked and controlled.

However, opposition leaders attacked the rise as “alarming” given plans to cut around 2000 jobs in a bid to slash £141m from budgets over four years.

Councillor Gavin Corbett, finance spokesman for the city’s Greens, said: “I am alarmed at the £2m rise in revenue costs for consultants and I’m sure that the targeted £2m saving on consultants in next year’s budget shows that my alarm is shared.

“I’m also surprised at just how much of the council spend goes on the mega-consultancies like Deloitte, PWC and Ernst and Young – over £3m by my reckoning.”

He added: “For too many of the contracts it is simply impossible to tell where the added value or impact has been. Where consultants are brought in it needs to be much more rigorously justified.”

Fresh analysis has revealed that much of the rise in consultancy fees over 2013-14 and 2014-15 was driven by efforts to sort out the statutory repairs mess, overhaul procurement operations and revamp the council’s IT infrastructure.

Councillor Iain Whyte, Conservative finance spokesman, said additional spending to address problems such as deficits in the health and social care budget was 
“understandable”. But he warned that the soaring bill was also due to weak management.

“As the council reorganises, it may be they go outside for experts to help them and it would not surprise me if they do,” he added.

“When you get into a position where you say that people have to leave the organisation to make budgets work, it does seem odd to be bringing in other external people to carry out different work.”

City bosses stressed that hiring consultants was always a temporary measure.

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance leader, said: “We’re going through a period of transformation and trying to do things we’ve never done before.

“Consultants are experts – brought in for a specific purpose and then they leave. It’s done on a time-limited basis and we expect to see results.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com