An extraordinary series of delays are leading some to conclude that Peterborough City Council is stalling on delivery of its report into the massive amount of money it has been paying to a group of consultants.
A set of questions posed by Peterborough City Cllr Mike Fletcher back in January 2010 led to a committee, set up in March 2010, and tasked with investigating the spending. This committee was due to report in September 2010. The delivery of this report was put back without explanation to November 2010. In November the committee advised that the report would now not appear until January 2011. The committee met again on 2nd February 2011, and announced that due to the fact that “other lines of enquiry have been identified” the report would not be released until next month. That meeting, scheduled for March 15th, is the last before the Council elections in May.
Extract from November meeting:
Scrutiny Review – Use of Consultancy
Councillor Lane introduced the report which provided an update on the work of the Scrutiny Group which had been established to review the Council’s use of consultancy.
This was Scrutiny’s second review into the use of consultants and considerable progress had been made by the Group. The Group had been given access to the Verto system which showed the current status of the Council’s projects and were looking at a number of projects to see how and what benefit consultants brought. One issue that the Group felt strongly about was that it was important to use in-house skills where possible. A final report, with recommendations, from the Group would be brought to the Committee in February 2011.
Comments and observations were raised around the following areas:
Q: The review had taken a long time since it was set up in March and appeared not to have got anywhere. Was a full list of consultants used by the Council available?
A: A full list was not available but the review had established that the number of consultants being used had reduced considerably.
The Committee should acknowledge receipt of the report with a proviso that we were unhappy at the speed of progress being made in undertaking the review. It could appear that the delay reinforced the view that the Council was trying to hide the real situation.
Councillor Seaton advised that he did not believe that anything was being hidden and if the Group felt that they were having problems getting all the information that they needed then they should let him know.
A number of different officers had been interviewed by the Group and a number of questions had been raised around the contract with Amtec. It may appear that progress had been slow but a lot of progress had been made.
Q: Had Councillor Fletcher received any answers to his questions which were submitted in January?
A: Many of Councillor Fletcher’s questions related to the Professional Services Partnership contract. The Group had looked at a number of invoices to see how consultants had been contracted. A number of the questions now had answers and the Group was close to getting answers to all of them.
Q: Why were the Group not able to see the contact between Amtec and V4 to establish what the sub-contracting arrangements were?
A: The City Council did not hold copies of the records between Amtec and V4.
Did the Group believe everything was in order?
The Group would like to reserve judgement until it had completed the review. Some consultants appeared to have shown value but it was necessary to take a view on whether the overall contract was providing value for money.
At the invitation of the Chairman Councillor Fletcher gave his views on the work so far. He believed that the progress made was pathetic and it was unacceptable that he had never received any answers to his questions which were submitted in January. The review should not have taken this long to undertake and he still believed that the Council had something to cover up.
Councillor Seaton advised that he welcomed the review. He had seen some of the answers to the questions which had been submitted but some of the questions did not move the Council forward, for example, seeing all invoices in relation to consultants. Again, if the Group believed things were being hidden from them they were to let him know.
Councillor Lane said that he was concerned that Councillor Fletcher had not received a direct response to his questions and he would ensure that he received a response.
The Chairman echoed the concerns of other Members and requested that as much information as possible should be sent to Councillor Fletcher.
The Committee acknowledged the report.
More information could be revealed when Council publish the full minutes of the February 2nd meeting. The next meeting of the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee is set for 15th March 2011. That is the final opportunity to report back before the May 2011 elections.