Council pays out nearly £300,000 to consultants

‘CASH-STRAPPED’ Horsham District Council has spent more than £280,000 on ‘consultants’ over the past 11 months.

That’s an average of nearly £26,000 a month, the equivalent of the average annual wage in the South East, spent on specialists twelve times a year.

The figures have been unveiled by the County Times following analysis of the council’s spending.

This was prompted by the revelation that the council paid £6,000 for a consultants’ report into leisure services - a report which has now been recognised as drawing conclusions from ‘fundamentally flawed’ methodology.

Christine Costin (LDem, Trafalgar), during discussion on the future of Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre at a council meeting last week, said that the case being put forward for closure - as outlined in the consultants’ report ‘Leisure Futures - An Assessment of Horsham’s Needs 2011’ - “is riddled with holes.”

And councillor Malcolm Curnock (LDem, Broadbridge Heath) added: “A number of horses and carts have been driven through the Leisure Futures Study and it clearly cannot be relied upon.”

Sport England has also criticised the study which forms conclusions based on the misuse of the organisation’s online tools.

However, HDC is still proceeding with the consultants’ report as a foundation on which to decide on the future provision of leisure facilities in the district.

But in the light of the report’s findings, HDC has been asked: “Who produces the brief for the consultant?”

The council replied: “Generally the manager will commission the work (Head of Service level minimum.)”

HDC is also being asked just how the council appoints consultants and answers are being sought under the Freedom of Information Act.

The conclusions of consultants’ reports, commissioned by HDC, are often used to justify more controversial developments and decisions the council takes.

Recently, plans for gypsy and traveller sites - identified by HDC following another consultants’ study costing nearly £9,000 - have been branded by Billingshurst residents as ‘an unfair burden’ on the village. (WSCT 15/12/11)

Last month alone, the council spent £23,651 on various consultants.

l HDC paid £5,170 to Centralis Ltd in November. When asked what this payment was for, a spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: “Citrix Consultancy for additions to XenApp,” with no further explanation forthcoming.

l The council paid £5,225 in November to DKB Project Management. When asked what for, the council said: “ICT Services- Information at Work project.”

l The council paid £2,328 in November to G L Hearn for a “Locally generated housing needs study.”

l The “Horsham Gypsy, Traveller and Trav-

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elling Showpersons Site Study” by Peter Brett Associates in November cost £8,900.

l The council also paid £850 in November to Advent IM Ltd for “ICT Services – CenSus Security project”; £590 to Capita Symonds Planning Application for “Floodlighting impact Survey”; and £581 to Seahaven Food Safety for “Food Hygiene Inspections – restaurants etc.”

The council insists that it is strapped for cash following a cut in government grants, but its annual report and accounts showed that as of April this year, the council had more than £13 million in ‘usable reserves’. It has said that it wants to keep £4 million in the bank to cover any unexpected bills.

But, altogether the council has £112 million in its general fund revenue reserves established in 1988/89 ‘to provide finance to meet future expenditure arising from capital and revenue projects’.

When asked about the figures last month, a spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: “The council had usable reserves of £13.130 million as at 31 March 2011.

“Some of this is in reserves earmarked for specific future expenditure, for example the vehicle replacement reserve and the repairs and renewals reserve.

“Some of the reserves are in general reserves which are held either to cover emergencies or to meet current and future capital and one off costs which cannot be met from annual revenue income.

“Much is already committed to meet the council’s existing capital programme. The council’s policy is to ensure that in the medium term at least £4 million remains in the reserves for future investment in the district.”