Use of Consultants: November Update – Playing for Time

Back in March Cllr Fletcher posed a series of questions about who got paid what and when for consultancy services, believed to be up to £12 million a year.
Here is an extract from the Agenda Reports Pack for the upcoming meeting of the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee for 9th November 2010 at 19:30pm. It is an outcome of sorts.
None of these specific questions have been answered in the report, but named councillors have apparently been given access to a great deal of information which they will be required to examine. The answers should be in there somewhere, and we the people must wait for enlightenment until 1st February 2011, maybe longer, but a mighty long time anyhow. But they still haven’t answered the questions.

Full Report Pack here

Note: the formatting has suffered in transit from pdf to web. Line endings/carriage return are affected, for which please be patient.

1.1 At their meeting of 15 March 2010, the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee requested a
review into the Council’s use of consultancy.
1.2 Before this review, the Best Value and Corporate Resources Policy Overview Committee
undertook a review of the council’s use of consultants and agency staff. It produced a number
of recommendations, which are set out in Appendix 1.
1.3 In November 2006 a monitoring report was provided to the Committee in respect of the
recommendations. This is attached as Appendix 2.
1.4 The purpose of this report is to provide an interim update on the work undertaken by the current
review group.
2.1 The panel are asked to acknowledge the content of this report.
3.1 At a meeting of the Environment Capital Scrutiny Committee on 14 January 2010, to discuss
the proposed Council budget, the subject of use of consultants arose. It was agreed that the
Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee be recommended to undertake an in-depth scrutiny
review into the cost and effectiveness of the Council’s use of consultants and to make
recommendations on the future use of consultants by the Council to inform the development of
budgets in future years. At its meeting of the 18 January 2010, the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny
Committee produced a list of questions which it asked to be answered, and they are included at
Appendix 3.
3.2 On the 15 March 2010, the Cabinet Member for Resources delivered a report on the use of
consultants to the Sustainable Growth Scrutiny Committee. Following this report and
subsequent discussion, the Panel requested a task and finish group to be established to review
the council’s use of consultants and report back on its findings and recommendations.
3.3 In line with protocol, the Scrutiny Manager wrote to the Group Secretaries seeking nomination
for the review. Councillors Lane, North, Sandford and Murphy were put forward by their
relevant parties.
3.4 The group have met a regularly, firstly to agree the definition of consultancy and to agree a
Terms of Reference, which is attached as Appendix 4.
3.5 Officers from Children’s Services, Strategic Resources, City Services, Peterborough Delivery
Partnership and the Operations Directorate have been interviewed to assess:
(i) The impact that consultants have had upon their service areas, at a programme,
project and individual level in terms of benefit realisation, knowledge transfer and
cost; and
(ii) The measures in place for identifying staff potential as a route to reducing reliance
on consultants.
3.6 The group have reviewed invoices, relevant contracts and have been provided with and have
received training in order to be able to review information through the Verto project
management system.
3.7 The next step for the group will be to meet to discuss the large volume of information that has
been provided to assist the review process, and to report findings to the Scrutiny Committee on
1 February 2011.
5.1 The use of consultants is an accepted business practice in many sectors, including the public
sector, which is regulated by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC). The group have
found at this interim stage that the use of consultants by many local authorities, including
Peterborough City Council has increased in recent years.
The group has also established that the figure of £12.4m discussed at previous Scrutiny
Committees included the costs associated with contractors. For the purposes of this review, the
group have concluded that the amount spent on consultancy by Peterborough City Council was
£6.6m over the same time period, April 2009 – December 2009. The total spending on
consultancy, as per the group’s agreed definition for the financial year 2009-10 was £8.2m.
Contextual information that outlines the spending on consultancy will be submitted with the
group’s final report.
The group will also report its findings with regard to whether consultants are improving
outcomes for Peterborough citizens and delivering real value for money in terms of cashable
and non-cashable savings.
5.2 The group accept that expert impartial advice is sometimes required for specialist project work,
however one of the recommendations from the 2006 review was ‘when there is the need to
appoint someone for a time limited piece of work the Council’s policy should be to look within
existing staff first to see if anyone has the required skills’.
The group is committed to ensuring that managers are making efficient use of the skills of
existing staff and will be reporting on this in its final report.
5.3 It is clear from officer interviews that Council departments are taking steps to become more
business like and efficient and that there is a corporate drive to achieve this. The group has
heard from a number of sources that private sector expertise is required to deliver reform. The
group is in the process of undertaking a cost and quality comparison exercise to satisfy itself
that the council is getting value for money from consultants.
6.1 It is proposed that, once completed, the review group’s report might inform the Cabinet Member
for Resources on how the council can increase the value for money from the use of consultants
and improve outcomes for staff and Peterborough citizens.
7.1 That the panel acknowledge the progress made by the review group.
8.1 The review group is subject to regular meetings and will report back to Scrutiny on 1 February
2011 with full details of its findings.
Used to prepare this report, in accordance with the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985
9.1 None
10.1 Appendix 1 – 2006 Summary of Recommendations
Appendix 2 – 2006 Review of Recommendations
Appendix 3 – Councillor Fletcher’s questions
Appendix 4 – Terms of Reference and consultancy definition

Full Report Pack here

Interview with Mike Fletcher 10th November 2010