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Council consultant spend slashed by almost £1.5 million

Wrexham Council has slashed the amount it spends on consultants by almost £1.5 million in the last year.

New figures show the authority spent almost £414,000 on fees for expert advice from external agencies in the 2017/18 financial year, compared to approaching £1.9m in 2016/17.

During the last 12 months, the largest individual amount it paid was £67,900 to Castlerigg Consulting on deciding which of its business applications should be kept -a process known as ‘applications rationalisation’.

The second highest sum of £43,000 was given to organisers of the official launch of the £4.5 million Ty Pawb arts and market centre, which included a parade, live music acts and fireworks.

Meanwhile, £27,660 has been used as part of an ongoing feasibility study on the future of the Groves School site in Wrexham town centre.

The reduction in spending comes after the council was heavily criticised by Unison Cymru in 2016 for paying £750,000 to consultants Pricewaterhouse Coopers to identify where to make cuts.

It led to council leader Mark Pritchard pledging that the authority would look to find savings using its own expertise in future.

In a report, head of finance Mark Owen said: “The council defines a consultant as a person (not an employee), agency or firm engaged for a limited period of time on a fee basis to carry out a specific task or tasks.

“A consultant provides subject matter, expertise and/or experience to the council either because it does not possess the skills or resources in-house or which requires an independent evaluation/assessment to be made.

“All appointments with an aggregated value of more than £5,000, except the appointment of barristers, must be in consultation with the appropriate lead member unless there is a conflict of interest in which case the consultation should be with the leader or deputy leader.

“For all proposed consultancy engagements over the value of £5,000 a consultancy head of finance form must be completed and forwarded to the head of finance prior to any steps to engage or actual procurement exercise commencing.”

The report also shows that a combined total of £14,245 was shelled out on the authority’s search for a new chief executive, following the departure of Dr Helen Paterson last year.

Two rounds of recruitment were required to find her replacement – the first costing £8,595 and the second £5,650 – and led to delays in the process.

Dr Paterson was eventually replaced by Flintshire Council chief officer Ian Bancroft, who did not apply for the role first time round.

The £414,000 spent on consultants was offset by more than £213,000 of external funding, taking the net spend down to just over £200,000.

The report also highlights an increase in fees for solicitors and barristers, which went up to £242,000 last year, compared to £195,000 in 2016/17.

 

By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme).

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