A Wrexham Council Scrutiny Committee today looked at how the authority engaged consultants, with it revealed that staff have left Wrexham Council, only to later be rehired ‘on a higher rate’.
The meeting followed a request by the committee to look further into the processes used to appoint consultants, with some high profile projects using them recently, notably the recent sports review where £51,000 was spent.
Cllr Derek Wright took umbrage at the concept of re-employing previously employed Council staff as consultants, stating that it is ‘morally wrong for someone who has taken voluntary redundancy or retirement to come back’.
Cllr Wright added: “They take the money then come back in three weeks on a higher rate than before, it is wrong. I have never liked it in private industry, and it is wrong for this authority to do it.”
Cllr Malcolm King said: “Most of us would support that sentiment. I am pleased to say it happens in a very small number of cases in Wrexham.
“This is partially because we have a culture for it not to happen. Legally it is hard to ban that from happening. We don’t want to develop a habit to do it on a regular basis.”
Cllr Wright replied “There are ways around it, one way is in their (redundancy) offer letter to state they cannot work for a period of time again for this authority”.
A hint was made at possible compulsory redundancies being made at Wrexham Council further to voluntary redundancies recently, and a suggestion that legal terms could be tightened before any further rounds of redundancies.
The Councillors were told by the Council Officers “Re-employment is very, very low, it is almost negligible.”
“The spend on Consultants is half is capital spend and half revenue spend, it is a quarter of a percent of our budget. Our overall spend is very very low.”
No actual numbers or costs were given, nor asked for, until Cllr Arfon Jones said: “We are told that very few are re-employed, I want actual figures, including schools.”
A reply was given: “In terms of having actual lists of figures you have to recognise the diverse nature of the Council, so you may get someone leaving one job then taken on by a school or a totally different job.
“There have been FOI’s in terms of re-engagement, and they were very, very low. I would also stress that aspect is not to do with consultants that we are talking about today.”
Despite the second more precise request, no figures or costs were given to how many people have been re-employed or at what rates.
One such FOI (Freedom of Information Request) was submitted by Wrexham.com, who requested details on the number of Council employees that had taken redundancy between January 1st 2012 and December 31st 2013.
The FOI (which can be read in full here) shows that 186 employees took redundancy in that particular time frame.
Wrexham.com also requested information on the number of Council employees who had been re-employed after taking redundancy. The FOI stated that one person had since been rehired by the Council in a ‘school job’.
A suggested wording was read out on possible contract terms to be offered those leaving Wrexham Council’s employment, with a two year restriction on re-employment mentioned. It was also suggested the Executive Board could be the ones to give approval to any re-employment. The Chair was reticent to move to a vote on the recommendation, due to it being more of a legal and HR issue, rather than todo with Consultants as per the meeting agenda.
Cllr Bob Dutton straightforwardly observed: “They could do with a HR Advisor here as there is a lot of crap being talked.”
The debate continued, with Cllr King suggesting that it would be an ‘onerous task’ and a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’, adding: “This is a problem for other authorities but not for us.”
Another issue raised was that the meeting had no input from legal or HR. Questions were also raised on the legality of any such contract suggestions, around ten minutes after Cllr Dutton’s insight.
A second suggestion to move a recommendation was made, however the meeting finally decided to request a further report to consider the process and issue, with the advice from legal and personnel departments to allow a decision.
One such potential issue is former employees acting as consultants via companies where it is not clear who is behind them. The meeting was told that such information is not always available and often larger companies can sub contract consultants and hire temporary consultants so it is almost impossible to know.
Cllr Colin Powell humorously suggested that the Council could hire consultants to do such investigative work to find out.
At the very end of the meeting under ‘Any Other Business’ Cllr Arfon Jones asked that the Committee have sight of a response to an anonymous letter sent to councillors and the Chief Executive. The details of the letter were not mentioned, however it was made obvious it refers to ex-employees becoming re-engaged potentially as consultant with associated ‘allegations’.
Wider from the re-engagement issues, a change for consultant engagement process was suggested by Cllr Wright, saying: “I have looked extensively at Plas Madoc affair, and appointments of consultants was in the March Exec Board under Part 2” (Secret).
“I asked at the budget workshop for local and neighbouring ward members to be told about such things, so it is not a case of waiting to read about it just in case we miss it.”
Cllr Paul Pemberton said: “I feel members should know who gets appointed, why they are appointed and what the expected outcome of their appointment is.
“Take Plas Madoc, I was not aware until they have been there some time that there were consultants being employed. Members should be consulted or at least informed.”
Councillors were told that a contracts register would be adapted and potentially made accessible to members. Queried on the timescale for such action a reply was given that the aim is to implement changes by 2014-2015.