Opposition fury as council bill for outside consultant fees hits £9m

The statutory repairs investigation has cost �2.2m in consultancy fees
The statutory repairs investigation has cost �2.2m in consultancy fees
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THE city council’s bill for outside consultants has doubled to a staggering £9 million as a result of such things as the tram project and the statutory repairs scandal, it was revealed today.

Specialist lawyers, surveyors and project managers were brought in as city chiefs attempted to salvage a series of major projects.

Taxpayers were landed with a bill of £9.4m in 2011-12 – up from £4.6m the previous 

At £2.2m, the single biggest cost stemmed from hiring specialist investigators from auditors Deloitte to examine alleged corruption at the Edinburgh City Council property 

City chiefs also paid the international law firm Eversheds nearly £1.1m to put together a bid to privatise three major council departments – including refuse collection – under the so-called Alternative Business Model.

However, councillors then turned down each of the bids and decided to keep services in-house instead.

On the tram project, management experts HG Consulting and Turner and Townsend were paid £340,000 to take over when the under-fire Transport Initiatives Edinburgh was axed.

Opposition parties said the list of failed projects on which consultants had been hired to work on carried a “stench of failure”.

Green councillor Gavin 
Corbett said: “A large organisation like the council will always need, from time to time, to bring in additional expertise.

“But there’s the stench of failure around some of these costs: over £1m in fees for a privatisation programme that was going nowhere; and over £2m for a property repairs investigation which was only needed because the council service collapsed.

“Only last week the council was saying it could not afford to keep Leith Waterworld open at the cost of £250,000 a year.

“With over £9m spent on consultants last year that will be a hard one for community campaigners to swallow.”

Other consultant costs this year were associated with the routine hiring of a range of legal firms and top architects to design a series of new schools and homes.

Malcolm Fraser Architects was among those hired to work on the regeneration of Muirhouse, putting forward a new red brick design to replace the grey tower blocks.

Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance leader as of May, said this year’s increase was linked to “unavoidable one-off projects”, and future spending would be closely controlled.

He said: “Spend in this area is closely monitored to ensure that we get best value for Edinburgh’s taxpayers. A large proportion of the increase this year has come from unavoidable one-off projects such as the independent investigation into our property services. We assess when it is necessary to engage external professionals such as architects to augment the skills and capacity of our own staff, who in turn benefit from the specialist knowledge being brought in-house.

“We will continue to look closely at expenditure on engaging external professionals and consultants to ensure that it adds significant value to the council’s own work.”