County slammed over consultancy spending

A COUNCIL has been criticised for spending more than £500,000 on consultants in a month when it has to make savings of £45million this year.

Northumberland County Council has published all its expenditure of more than £500 after the Department for Communities and Local Government said last year that all councils would be required to do so.

But the figures from December reveal that around £530,000 was spent on what the council classes as ‘Professional, Consultancy and Hired Services’. And £64,000 of that was paid to Gatenby Sanderson, the agency from which the council’s former deputy chief executive Keith Ireland came.

Mr Ireland was reported to have been paid £1,250 a day by the council, before he left in December.

But the council has defended the claims saying that it has ben open about all of the costs. It was added that the £530,000 sum covers a wide range of services which have to be sourced from outside the council.

Rothbury and Coquetdale councillor Steven Bridgett described the exercise as ‘sickening’.

He said: “The whole system is rotten, this is endemic in every council across the country, not just Northumberland.”

Also included was around £635,000 on agency staff, which includes Homes for Northumberland and Connexions, more than £55,818.65 on advertising and publicity, £100,000 on leased cars, £37,000 on external legal advice, £16,345.07 on mobile phone bills, £35,801.84 on printing and stationery, £100,374.76 on staff training, £10,653.62 on external IT advice and support and others.

Coun Bridgett added: “What you have to remember is this is the first time not just the public are seeing this information in such collated detail but also councillors and I think much of the data has been designed to be confusing.

“This council has to make some serious decisions over the next two weeks, with regard to the services we provide to the public and what I am being told by Joe Public is if they had to choose between having their bins collected, getting theirs roads fixed and having clean streets or spending over half a million a month on consultancy the answer is obvious.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We’re completely open about all of these costs, with all spending over £500 available to view on our website.

“The criticism is misleading because the ‘professional, consultancy and hired services’ budget covers a huge range of services that the council has to buy in from outside – everything from payments to other agencies to court fees and legal support around childcare proceedings, payments to sub-contractors and matters relating to schools and highways.

“In the case of Gatenby Sanderson, the company has provided a number of interim staff to ensure the council can operate effectively during a period of massive change and a review of senior management that has helped deliver £1.9m of financial savings every year – over five years the investment saving up to £10million.”