07:08 Friday 4th February 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridge
PAUL STAINTON: A report into Peterborough City Council’s use of consultants has been delayed again. It was due last November, then again this week. But it’s findings have now been pushed back to mid-March. The review started after local councillors expressed concern over the authorities’ £6.6 million spend on consultancy, over a period of nine months in 2009. Councillor Mike Fletcher submitted questions about consultancy use to the Council last January, and they still haven’t been answered. He’s with us this morning. Morning Mike.
MIKE FLETCHER: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: A bit of background to all this might help, because it’s quite complicated, isn’t it?
MIKE FLETCHER: Not to me it isn’t. If it wasn’t so serious it would be laughable. Quite honestly I could cry. Fifteen questions asked on 18th January (2010). That’s all we wanted answers to. They still can’t do that. We could have saved all this business, the expense of a report and what not. Those questions would have been quite satisfactory if they’d been answered in a proper manner.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. Why are you so concerned though?
MIKE FLETCHER: Well, first we’re told it’s £12 miilion, well it was £8 million we’d spent on consultants. Then it became £12 million. And now I hear from you this morning it’s down to £6 million. (THEY LAUGH). You know, don’t they know what they are spending? And then I’m told .. I was asked to define what I called a consultant. Was it a contractor, a consultant or an Interim Manager? And they asked me to define that. So just what’s going on for goodness sake?
PAUL STAINTON: Why has it been delayed again? What have Peterborough City Council said to you?
MIKE FLETCHER: Nothing to me. I did hear a whisper a couple of weeks ago that it’s been delayed because the group was having trouble getting answers from the officers, and no cooperation from them.
PAUL STAINTON: How many of your fifteen questions have received an answer.
MIKE FLETCHER: None. Not one.
PAUL STAINTON: Not one.
MIKE FLETCHER: Not to me it hasn’t. I haven’t seen one answered at all.
PAUL STAINTON: In over a year.
MIKE FLETCHER: In over a year.
PAUL STAINTON: OK. Now we’ve asked everyone involved to come on this morning. They’ve all said no.
MIKE FLETCHER: Oh yes. Well I shall be in a lot of trouble for coming on then, won’t I? (THEY LAUGH)
PAUL STAINTON: But that’s your job, isn’t it? You’re a councillor. You’ve got to ask questions.
MIKE FLETCHER: This is it. My principles override everything, and loyalty to the people who elected me. As I’ve said many many times, if you see something like this that deserves investigation, you have a duty to ask and receive those answers to those questions. All this shilly-shallying about, it’s either exempt, they’re on leave, or off with stress, or some damn thing, to stop the questions being answered. It’s just not good enough.
PAUL STAINTON: It shouldn’t take this long to answer a few questions, should it?
MIKE FLETCHER: Course it shouldn’t. ..
PAUL STAINTON: Is it a really transparent way to work, do you feel?
MIKE FLETCHER: Well I don’t think it is. Not at all. Surely we’ve got a right to know what the exact figures are. I’ve said this morning, it’s varied between £6 million and £12 million. What are they doing, that the officers can’t be doing? Because I’m damned if I know. If the officers can’t do the job, what are they doing there? They’re being paid over £100,000 a year. And now we’ve got these people. I was told they’re on £1000 a day. I’ve since been told it’s £1300. The figures just go up and down every time you speak to somebody.
PAUL STAINTON: To be fair, they’ve had a few problems, Peterborough City Council. They’ve got a big budget to slash, and manage. It’s a busy old time. Do you think that’s why?
MIKE FLETCHER: No. We were told that these consultants have saved us £30 million. Where’s that gone then?
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Do you think perhaps your questions were a little bit difficult Mike, and that’s why they’ve taken a while to answer them?
MIKE FLETCHER: I don’t think they were difficult at all. When you say who actually makes the decision to engage a consultant, and how is this decision actually authorised, who determines what rate he’s paid, exactly what rate is paid plus any other fees which may be involved. Those are the sort of questions, that’s all. I think they’re quite simple and straightforward. And after all, there was a report done in 2006 that said that all these things should be kept centrally, and readily available, this information to be kept centrally and readily available. So if those recommendations from 2006 had been adhered to, well we just go to them and see what was going on.
PAUL STAINTON: We’ve got the minutes of a meeting from November here at the Council. And many councillors are backing you up. Councillor Lane says he’s concerned you haven’t received a direct response to your questions, and he would ensure you received a response. But no response? Nothing.
MIKE FLETCHER: No. I haven’t heard anything yet. No, nothing at all.
PAUL STAINTON: Well, we wait with baited breath. Hopefully next month we’ll get the answers, do you think?
MIKE FLETCHER: Well, put it this way, I wouldn’t put money on it. But it’s very serious. The electorate should bombard these people with letters. I’ve written to Eric Pickles over the situation. He hasn’t been any help at all, except that he’s looking at it. Well if he got a thousand letters from the people of Peterborough it would concentrate his mind no end.
PAUL STAINTON: Well he’s a friend of the show, as you probably know Mike, so we’ll have a chat with him. We did ask Peterborough City Council to come on air, everybody concerned with this story. Nobody could. Nobody would. We do have this though. No-one from the Task and Finish Group at Peterborough City Council would come on, but we did get this statement. “The review has been expanded as other lines of inquiry have been identified, and is progressing well. The aim now is to publish the final report into consultancy expenses in mid-March.” Andrew Mackintosh, Director of Communications says, “As with most large organisations, Peterborough City Council employs consultants to help complement full-time employees as appropriate. This report aims to ensure we have the right balance of in-house resources, and use appropriate external expertise only when there’s a strong business case for doing so.” And we’ll find out, fingers crossed, next month, how much all that is costing us.