Andy Gall interviewing Peterborough City Cllr. Mike Fletcher on BBC Radio Peterborough at 07:10 am 1st March 2010 icw a legal challenge to the release of details of payments made by Peterborough City Council to consultants.
AG: It has emerged that Peterborough City Council, it’s rumoured that it’s spending nine million pounds a year on expert consultants. The figure has gone up. Last year it was revealed that the local authority spent eight million pounds on consultants and temporary staff between July 2007 and June 2008. At the time it said that employing consultants actually saves the council money. And Councillor Mike Fletcher is Chairman of the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee.and joins us now. Good morning Mike.
MF: Good morning to you.
AG: Thank you, well we’ll play this with a straight bat. So you were told the figure by the City Council’s Head of Finance weren’t you.
MF: Finance, that’s right, and er if I could tell you the background to this, like many other councillors, I share a serious concern over the council’s use of, and reliance upon consultants. At a Scrutiny Co-ordination meeting, held on the 27th. January, I was told by the Head of Finance that last year the Council paid consultants a total of £9 million pounds. And work that out, that is £750,000 per month, or the equivalent of 90 senior managers on £100,000 a year. neither is this a one-off payment. Similar amounts have been paid, year after year.
AG: So why is there a culture of this, then? What do you put it down to?
MF: Well, I er I don’t know. And that’s why I’ve asked these questions. I want some answers, so that we all know. There may be a very good reason for consultants to be employed. But if we don’t know, then it seems, it remains a mystery, doesn’t it?
AG: We’ve been told that the consultancy firm in question is threatening legal action, if the Council reveals what it’s being used for.
MF: Let me just tell you something. On Monday 22nd February, I received an email in the evening, and was going to have an Interim Meeting the next day, but it was received without any prior consultation whatsoever, which had been issued by the Solicitors to the Council.
MF: And it states: “on the instructions of the Solicitors to the Council, the Informal Meeting of the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee tomorrow is required to be cancelled” The reason being, the Council is being threatened with legal action, over the release of information, and she needs to fully consider what we propose to release, with the lawyers acting for the consultants concerned. She has requested ten working days to sort out this issue. I find that to be somewhat astounding.
AG: Hasn’t Marco Cereste come out and said there should be transparency? Well, certainly the MP for Peterborough has, hasn’t he? He said there should be some transparency.
MF: Of course there should. And I’m sure that Marco will get on top of it. I’ve every faith in Marco.
AG: But have you got every faith in Peterborough City Council when they’re ..
MF: No, I haven’t.
AG: .. this level of money on consultancy?
MF: I .. I have not, no.
AG: It puts into question the whole, kind of, the credibility if they can’t actually de.. if they can’t actually perform the service without actually having to spend this amount of money on external staff.
MF: Well, that’s exactly what I think. And, I mean .. it’s just the secrecy that surrounds all this sort of thing. And it’s not just these consultants. I mean, I’ve been denied information under the Freedom of Information Act, because I’ve asked for accounts for the council-owned Westcombe Engineering facility, for instance. And that has been denied to me. They say they have no accounts. But, let me just give you this instance. How can a business, with a million pound turnover, not have any accounts? And then, by refusing to co-operate, only raises a suspicion that there is something to hide. Especially, this is Westcombe, as gross incompetence and dishonesty has already been identified, which resulted in a police investigation.
AG: Well, we can’t really comment on that at the moment.
MF: Well no I can’t. I’m just giving you that instance. Even though they know that’s gone on, they cannot produce accounts, so as I can check for the accounting procedure, and what’s been going on down there. And then we go back to the consultants, we ask for this information, and then we get a tale about consultants have consulted lawyers.
AG: Well there’s a rumour, isn’t there, from what I understood it, that the consultancy firm said they don’t want to impart the costings for what they’ve done for Peterborough City Council, because they fear that other competitive consultation, er consultancy companies will come along and undercut them.
MF: Well … I’m also being told that if I divulge this information the consultants will just up and leave.
AG: OK. Well I’m sure there’s plenty more digging to be done here. And we’ll do some more in the second hour of the programme. But for the time being Mike, thank you very much for talking to us.
MF: OK Thank you.
AG: That’s Mike Fletcher, who’s of course Councillor Mike Fletcher, Chairman of the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee. Now a spokeswoman for Peterborough City Council said that the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee planned for Tuesday 23rd February was postponed, not cancelled, that nobody is suing the Council over this matter, and they’re in the process of compiling a public report to go to Scrutiny Committee on Monday 15th March.