Use of Consultants – Task and Finish Group Final Report

Nick Sandford07:23 Thursday 24th March 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY GALL: A special meeting was held last night to discuss whether Peterborough City Council has spent too much money on consultants. It stemmed from complaints made by Councillor Mike Fletcher, who said that payments to consultants need to be more transparent. A group of three councillors were asked to investigate. One of the working group is Liberal Democrat councillor Nick Sandford, and joins us now. Good morning Nick.
NICK SANDFORD: Good morning Andy.
ANDY GALL: So can you remind us of how the investigation came about.
NICK SANDFORD: Yes. Well over quite a long period of time Councillor Fletcher, when he was Chair of the Sustainable Growth (Scrutiny) Committee was asking a series of questions about why the Council’s expenditure on interim managers and consultants seemed to be increasing all the time, despite in 2006 the Council making a committment that they were going to reduce their reliance on consultants. He was asking these questions and not getting any responses, so it was agreed that the Council would set up a scrutiny review group. Myself and two other councillors have been working on this since about last June, and we’ve produced a very comprehensive report covering about 67 pages, and produced some 31 recommendations about how the Council can reduce the reliance on consultants.
ANDY GALL: When we talk about consultants, quite a good question really is .. there are a few elements of contention like Councillor Fletcher raised the issue, what exactly is a consultant. And there are also questions regarding how much has actually been spent. So how do they define consultants?
NICK SANDFORD: Yes. We had to do this right at the beginning, because there were various figures being thrown around, £12 million, £8 million, £10 million. One of the problems is different people were using different definitions. There are interim managers. They’re people who are employed as part of the managerial structure of the Council on a temporary basis, and we were concerned that some of these people were hanging around for three years, four years, that sort of thing. But actual consultants, that’s where the Council needs to aquire a specialist service, where they don’t in-house have a specialist skill, and need to get somebody in to provide that for them.
ANDY GALL: In a sort of flippant way, you often hear people talk about consultants, and consultancy, and you see it as being a bit of a gravy train. If you become a consultant in this that and the other then life’s good. But to defend consultants, there must be reasons. You’re not saying that consultantcy per se should be removed, but that it should be managed more.
NICK SANDFORD: No. Absolutely not. Yes. We absolutely recognise that where the Council needs .. say the Council has some property that needs to be valued, a specialist piece of property, like the Peterborough United football ground for instance, they needed to get somebody in with the specialist skills to actually do that for a short period. The thing that gives rise to concern is where some of these interim managers or consultants are employed over a considerable period of time. We found examples of people working for the Council since 2006, either doing the same job, or being moved around from one job to another. And that’s where we raised some very serious concerns about whether it would be better value for money the Council taking on a full-time employee for that purpose.
ANDY GALL: (INDISTINCT) .. there is a history behind the Peterborough fottball ground (INDISTINCT) a consultant there about eight or nine years ago.
NICK SANDFORD: Yes. One of the problems there was the Council got their property valuation from a consultant and didn’t actually abide by it. And that raises questions.
ANDY GALL: So in essence, what recommendations are you and the other two members making?
NICK SANDFORD: Well as I say there’s 33 of those. I won’r run through all 33, but basically what we’re saying is there should be a more rigorous procedure before a consultant is appointed. They should be reviewed rigorously after a period. The Council should .. one of the things we were amazed to find is the Council’s HR Department doesn’t have a record of all the skills that Council employees have. So we recommended a central skills register be set up, that the Council should put in place succession planning, so that every senior job, they know who could move into that job if that person leaves. And the final one is that when they employ a consultant, they should have what’s known as skills transfer. So that part of that consultant’s contractual obligation should be to train people inside the Council to take over from them.
ANDY GALL: OK. That’s Nick Sandford talking to us. And later in the programme we’ll be speaking to the councillor who made the original complaint, that’s Mike Fletcher.

The Report