Council says huge consultants bill justified despite spending restrictions

Despite strict spending controls Dudley Council coughed-up nearly a quarter of a million pounds on four agency staff in just four months.

The authority is currently battling to save £37m in three years to get its finances back on track and has introduced rules limiting spending on services it is not required by law to provide.

Restrictions started in October but by the end of January the bill for four temporary consultants working on regeneration and estates was an eye-watering £223,518. Balvinder Heran, deputy chief executive of Dudley Council, said:

“This relates to specialist professionals we are using to work on our important regeneration and estates strategy development programmes. 

“Part of their work is to develop and deliver the projects within the levelling up and longer towns fund bids the council was successful in securing over the last 12 months.”

The quartet, who were doing non-statutory work, were supplied from two agencies and their day rates ranged from £429 to £1,020.

In January the council stumped up the lowest monthly figure of £47,207 for the four while in December they trousered a total of £75,611. Dudley Council leader, Cllr Patrick Harley says the consultants played a vital role in securing some big regeneration projects and the cash to pay them came in grants from the West Midlands Combined Authority. Cllr Harley said:

“A £30-£40 million ice rink is quite special and we are very close to having it, we needed specialist help and had to pay to get it.

“We are in competition with HS2, Manchester and London so we have to pay the going rate, nobody likes it but we have got to get that expertise in.”

He added the use of consultants was discussed when the spending controls were introduced and without help from the combined authority they would have been cancelled. Balvinder Heran added: “All interim and agency staff are reviewed by the council’s Spending Control Group before a decision to proceed and continue.”

Labour’s finance spokesperson, Cllr Shaukat Ali, was scathing. He added: “We have got our own officers who are highly paid, what is it these people bring that can’t be done by our own officers?

“We can’t keep doing away with staff and relying on consultants, which we can see are an expensive resource.”

Cllr Ali was also not impressed with the combined authority contributing to the bill for the consultants, who Cllr Harley says were needed partly to allow council staff the time to concentrate on other tasks. He added: “It is still public money when it comes from the combined authority, it’s just unforgivable.”

Information on payments to consultants for Febraury and March is yet to be published.


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