Councils spends £1m on consultants every year

HORSHAM District Council spent nearly £80,000 on using consultants in December alone, new figures have revealed.

As part of the coalition Government’s Transparency Agenda, councils across the country have had to publish all expenditure above £500 and HDC’s figures released this month, covering transactions in December 2010, show a total of £77,677 was spent on the ‘use of consultants’.

The 13 transactions ranged from £646 to £27,935. A council spokesman said an average of £31,000 is spent every month on consultants when specialist studies are required.

The £27,935 was paid to Saffron Champness for an independent assessment of ‘viability report addressing enquiries of local residents and re-addressing funding plans and some disbursements’. The report was submitted to HDC by Abingworth Developments Ltd and Sussex Mushroom Ltd.

A sum of £18,000 paid to Urban Practitioners represents two invoices of £9,000 for the Future Prosperity of Horsham study and Compass Network Associates received £10,660 for reports relating to the Acorn Plus overspend.

Using consultants is something opposition members of the council have long been concerned about.

Leader of the Horsham Liberal Democrats, David Holmes (Horsham Park), said: “I am chairman of the Business Improvement Working Group and we have looked into the use of consultants and have written a report which will be submitted to the scrutiny and overview committee) on March 7.

“Members of the council are concerned about expenditure on consultants and have been for some time and as a result of the this committee looked into it.

“Around £1m a year is spent on consultants although that amount is beginning to fall slightly.

“It’s impossible to know what will be spent on consultants because you don’t know what issue they decide they need to get some advice about.

“The big concern I have is that as the council’s staff and management is cut to fit financial restraints, the council is losing expertise and it ends up having to use consultants.

“I am concerned that we are getting to the point where we don’t have the expertise to choose consultants efficiently. You need to have expertise to ask for the correct advice.”

He said the report being submitted to scrutiny will urge the cabinet to introduce tighter procedures on the use of consultants and for there to be clear justifications and a business case for using a consultant.

It will also call on there to be reviews after appointing consultants to assess their value for money.

A spokesman for HDC said: “Consultants are employed where specialist studies are required or if we don’t have the experience in-house.

“The level of spend on consultants in December 2010 is higher than the average monthly spend of £31,000 from April 2010 to January 2011.”

The transactions can be seen on the council’s website: www.horsham.gov.uk/council/13135.aspx

What should Horsham District Council be spending tax payers’ money on? Leave your comments below or email ct.letters@sussexnewspapers.co.uk