Feb 28 2013 by Ian Proctor, Harrow Observer
MILLIONS of pounds of taxpayers’ cash spent on consultants while public services are being cut and council tax is set to rise is ‘scandalous’, according to a councillor.
Independent Headstone North councillor James Bond used the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act to force Labour-run Harrow Council to disclose details of how much private companies had earned from advising officers and councillors.
He said since the May 2010 local elections, when Labour seized back power of the authority from the Conservatives, a total of £4,078,040 had been ‘frittered away’ on consultancy firms.
Mr Bond, who was voted on to the council at the same election, said: “The people of Harrow are entitled to ask why millions of pounds are being poured into the pockets of consultancy firms when there is absolutely nothing positive to show for it.
“It would be judged as an appalling way to spend public money even if we had a strong economy, but the fact that it is allowed to happen in these austere times is absolutely scandalous.
“The consultancy spend for the current financial year covers the five months to the end of September, when my FoI Act request was submitted, and it reveals that Harrow Council had already spent nearly £1m.
“This suggests the appetite by council officials to hire outside advisors shows no signs of abating and actual consulting spending could be considerably more than £4m.”
In the 2012/13 financial year up to September, children’s services was the biggest spending department on consultants at £357,126, while community and environment chalked up expenditure of £293,562.
Mr Bond said: “It can no longer go unnoticed that one of the biggest losers will be community and environment, which is about to make nearly £650,000 of ‘savings’ affecting street cleaning, rubbish collections and park maintenance, while with a touch of irony the same department has spent almost £300,000 in just 20 weeks acquiring outside advice on how to do things better.”
Harrow Council’s divisional director for human resources, Jon Turner, said: “Councils across the country use consultants when particular skills, knowledge or expertise are required from outside the local authority.
“Harrow Council will only employ consultants when it is absolutely necessary and will deliver real benefit.
“We are an efficient council, which is fit for the 21st century, and by 2015 we will have made savings of £75m to the council’s controllable budget.
“We have delivered these savings by reducing the number and pay of senior managers while protecting the lowest paid staff, making efficiencies in all departments, adopting a more commercial approach, improving procurement to get the most out of contracts and streamlining the way we make decisions.”
■ What do you think about the spend? It is necessary or ‘frittering away’ tax payers’ cash? Email your views to email@example.com.