Call for Minister to Intervene on Consultant Secrecy

Back in January questions were asked by the Chairman of the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee about the full extent of Council’s financial involvement with consultants, said to be twelve million pounds a year and rising. A report was promised in June, then again in September, then again in November, and now the answers to those questions have been put back to February of next year.
In the meantime the Chairman has been ousted from his post. Today he gives the BBC some more details of his cause for concern, including the fact that consultants have been paid one thousand pounds a day. The constant reluctance on Council’s part to deliver the information requested has prompted him to join with MP Stewart Jackson in writing to the Minister for Local Government to ask him to act to get to the truth about the issue.

PAUL STAINTON: First up though, an investigation into the amount of money Peterborough City Council spends on consultants reported its findings back yesterday. The review started after local councillors expressed concerns, after it was revealed that Peterborough City Council spent twelve million pounds on consultants last year. Let’s speak to one of the councillors now who expressed concerns, Mike Fletcher. He resigned from his role as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, after he grew frustrated at the lack of answers over the issue. Morning Mike.
MIKE FLETCHER: Good morning Paul. By the way, I’ve just heard you say I resigned from that committee. I did not. I was cleared off.
PS: You were forced out.
MF: I was indeed. (THEY LAUGH).
PS: Perhaps we were being far too polite.
MF: That’s right. I had a gentle upbringing.
PS: Now I’m just having a look here. Tell me if I’m wrong, but it’s a bit smelly, this report.
MF: Well, er, Paul, I hope the listeners are aware, there was not one question was answered last night, of the questions I put forward on the Eighteenth of January this year.
PS: Just remind us of the questions you put forward Mike, would you please.
MF: Yes, certainly. Well there were fifteen. And I’ll start off, identify all consultancy companies, identify who the employees of the sub-contracting companies, the employees of the sub-contracting company, directors of that company, identify any other individuals who may be operating on a self-employed basis and engaged by PCC. (Note: full list of questions here)The other thing I asked was provide documented evidence of the actual yearly cost of all consultancy fees. All perfectly reasonable questions. Wouldn’t take much to answer. But officers seem to have great difficulty in answering theose questions.
PS: So none of the questions you asked have been answered.
MF: None at all. Not one.
PS: That is amazing.
MF: It is. So even though everything may be above board, I’m not accusing anybody.
PS: No.
MF: But by not answering those questions, taxpayers may rightly be suspicious.
PS: And also, adding to the suspicion is the fact that now, this was supposed to be the definitive report. It now isn’t. It’s an interim report. And, the amount of money they claimed that Peterborough City Council claim, twelve million pound spent on consultants, has somehow miraculously been reduced.
MF: Well that’s quite amazing isn’t it. Nobody’s told me it’s been reduced, but all these figures are just poppycock. First we’re told consultants have saved us twenty million pounds, then it’s thirty million pounds, and then we hear it’s probably projected savings. So what have they saved?
PS: Yes. have you raised any questions about this, last night, did you speak last night at the meeting?
MF: I did indeed. Yes. The Chairman asked me to comment, and one of the comments I made was that it has never been denied that consultants are being paid a thousand pounds per day, each.
MF: Yes. Yes.
PS: Nice.
MF: So if that isn’t true, then deny it, and show me what they are being paid. But I have it on good authority that that’s what they’re being paid. A thousand pounds per day.
PS: We did invite Peterborough City Council to come on this morning. I’m quite frustrated that they’ve not come on ..
MF: I’m not surprised.
PS: .. because I think they should have done. They declined our invite, however, and sent us a statement from Councillor Steven Lane, who is the Independent councillor on the panel.
MF: Right.
PS: And this is the statement. It’s quite lengthy. “We want to ensure this review is both extensive and comprehensive, to determine whether the Council has received value from the consultants it’s used, and to ensure that skills are being retained in-house to lessen the reliance on consultants in the future. Therefore the need for another review. The rport to Scrutiny last night was not a final report, but an update on what’s been achieved so far. This work has identified that consultancy spend was actually six point six million pounds in April 2009 to December 2009, and not the twelve million that we previously stated.
PS: “The previous figure proved to be inaccurate ..” Oh there’s a shock. ” .. because it included the work of contractors, which carry out day to day Coucnil activities, not consultancy expertise.
MF: Oh yes.
PS: “The final report findings will be made to Scrutiny in February of next year.” And they go on to say that they’re “puzzled by your comments, because it was agreed by the Scrutiny Committee that the Task and Finish Group set up to review the Council’s use of consultants would report back to Scrutiny Committee in September.
MF: That’s what they said. But how long does it take to answer fifteen questions? And the review is only based on one that was carried out in I think it was 2006. There was recommendations that all of what consultants were doing, achievements, should be kept centrally, to be accessible. Well so far I haven’t been able to see anything that’s been kept centrally, and be accessible. So to me that’s just doubling up on what was already done, led by the recently departed Councillor Mike Burton.
PS: Were you ever under the impression, as Peterborough City Council say, that this report was just an update, was just like an interim report?
MF: Last night Steve Lane, who I’ve got a lot of respect for, did say that they would need to extend it until February. But good God, you know, they’ve been at it now since the beginning of the year. What on earth’s going on?
PS: Yes. So we know a little bit more, that the goalposts have changed. People will be listening to this this morning and thinking it’s all a bit fishy.
MF: Well I think so as well, and that’s why I’ve actually written to Eric Pickles, the Minister for Local Government, and actually with the support of Stewart Jackson, asking for him to investigate this. I look upon it so seriously that when I was the Chairman of that committee I quite legally asked these questions. And I could expect an honest straightforward answer from officers. And so far, we haven’t had any answers whatsoever.
PS: Are you hopeful you’ll have some by February?
MF: I doubt it. There might be a report, but I’ll bet these questions aren’t answered, such as who determines what rate is paid, who actually hires these people. And yesterday I saw again we’re hiring consultants to look into whether we need travellers sites in the town. (LAUGHS) And so it goes on.
PS: And we smile at this, and we’re smiling this morning, but it’s serious business. This is our money, isn’t it. Millions of pounds of our money.
MF: It is. And when this comes up in group meeting or committee, some councillors grin, and snigger, and think it’s funny. Well it damn well isn’t funny. And I’m absolutely beside myself with rage over this.
PS: There’s sniggering going on is there?
MF: Oh yes. Yes. From fellow councillors, snigger and grin, and think, hello, here he goes again.
PS: Well I’m glad they think it’s funny that twelve million pounds of our money could have been wasted. I’m glad they find it something to snigger about.
MF: Absolutely. So am I.
PS: Just finally Mike, what is your view on all of this? Does there need to be some caps set on the amount of spend on consultants? Do we need to get rid of them altogether? Where do you stand on all of this?
MF: Me, I would love to see them all sent up the road with my boot behind them.
MF: No problem whatsoever. And again. I suppose I shall be getting phone calls saying you shouldn’t be saying this, blah blah. Well I am saying it. My loyalty is to the people who elected me. I’ve always said that on this programme, and I shall continue to represent these people in the best way I think fit.
PS: Breath of fresh air. Mike, thank you for coming on this morning. Councillor Mike Fletcher, who expressed concern about consultants many months ago, and was ousted from his role as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, after he grew frustrated at the lack of answers over the issue. Still not received any answers to the questions he posed. And I find it quite remarkable, distasteful, ridiculous, as Mike revealed there, that some councillors think it’s a sniggering, laughing matter, when twelve million pounds of our money is on the table.

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