MORE than £10million has been pocketed by consultants employed by Cambridgeshire County Council in the last three years - and concerned councillors are demanding change.

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Council bosses defend consultancy spend

COUNTY council bosses have defended the millions spent on consultants - claiming it was necessary for improving roads, social care and education in Cambridgeshire.

Councillor Steve Count, the county council’s cabinet member for resources and performance, said: “These figures are over a three year period, from 2009, and although this represents 0.3 per cent of the council’s total spend over the time we will continue to reduce this.

“Much of this spend was funded by Government and not a direct expense to Cambridgeshire taxpayers.

“Many were vital in bringing forward schemes such as improvements to the A14, better social care for children, building new secondary schools across Fenland and bringing superfast broadband to Cambridgeshire.

“The largest spend is on professional firms to help with large and complex projects. Interims are often used for frontline services were gaps must be plugged to ensure that vulnerable children and adults get the services they need when they need them.

“Reducing reliance on consultants and interims has been something this cabinet has been actively pursuing.

“In the past year we have already seen a significant reduction in spend with new controls brought in last year, including the need for cabinet member agreement before a consultant or interim is employed.

“We welcome the member led review and it is reassuring that scrutiny’s recommendations align with much of what we have put in place in the last 18 months.”

About £10.8million was spent on consultants and interim managers between 2009-2012, a report from the county council’s resources and performance overview and scrutiny committee has revealed.

The report criticises the county council’s inability to provide “good and timely” information on consultancy costs and claims that “the cumulative figures for some consultants were staggering”.

In some cases, “interim” staff were found to have been working for the county council for more than five years, while some consultants daily costs were more than £600.

Councillor Fred Brown, chairman of the resources and performance overview and scrutiny committee, said: “It was clear that all departments did not have a grip on what was going on.

“In our view, this should have been part of human resources responsibility. Therefore, significant changes to processes need to be put firmly in place to correct these anomalies.”

He added: “We think it essential that the Human Resources department should have a vital role in making sure that the organisation employs consultants and interims as the last resort.

“We are very concerned that some opportunites that could be taken up by salaried staff are not available.”

Councillors found that the county council’s information on the number of consultants hired was “unsatisfactory” and that some of the day rates for these employees were “very high”.

They recommended that interims “should be employed on an exceptional basis only, after more cost effective options have been exhausted”.

As part of their review, councillors asked the heads of service in each department to provide information on interim management spending.

In the financial years 2009-2012, more than £3.2million was spent on consultants in the economy, transport and environment department, while the adult social care and children and young people sections both reported spends of about £3million.

Councillors were also concerned that the use of consultants may “frustrate staff development opportunities”.

The report lists a series of recommendations for change, which the county council’s cabinet has responded to.

The cabinet has accepted that definitions for “consultants” and “interims” must be agreed and applied consistently and that they should only be employed on “an exceptional basis”.

Recommendations to adopt a plan to address skills shortages and to routinely look for alternative solutions to consultants were also accepted.

Employees at risk of redundancy will be offered the opportunity to complete a skills audit and the new processes will be reviewed within a year.

The county council’s cabinet “partially accepted” other recommendations, including the need to compile a register of consultants and interim managers and their performance. They added, however, that publication of the register “may not be possible as it may contain commercially sensitive information”.

The review into the use of consultants will go before the county council’s cabinet on Tuesday.

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