Council defends consultants’ fees

Scarborough Town Hall
Scarborough Town Hall

FREEDOM of Information (FOI) legislation only provides a snapshot and not the full picture, it has been claimed.

FREEDOM of Information (FOI) legislation only provides a snapshot and not the full picture, it has been claimed.

The news came at a meeting of Scarborough Council’s Audit Committee in the wake of critical headlines following an FOI request for the amount spent on consultants by the authority.

Hilary Jones, the council’s strategic director, told committee members that the organisation had to provide answers to the exact question that was asked and they did not show in-depth information.

As reported the recent FOI request showed that Scarborough Council spent £4,711,950 on consultancy services in the past three years – but the council’s FOI response did not show that 76 per cent was secured from external funding pots.

Ms Jones said: “There was no detail. It generated quite a lot of misunderstanding and some criticism that we had spent such a large amount of resources.”

She added that it was a “good news story” because the council had got additional funding into the area and that the consultants provided very specialised services. “Procuring them is good value for money and it is better to buy them in on an ad hoc basis,” she said.

She said that there had been some complex planning applications in recent years, which involved complex legal issues, and specialist advice was needed to reduce any potential risk.

Between April 2008 and November 2010, the council spent £1,108,887 on consultants with the remaining £3,603,059 coming from external sources.

Ms Jones said that a major coastal and flood monitoring and defence works project, which was announced last year, was entirely funded by grants from the Environment Agency. Between March and November the cash included:

- £416,214 for specialist work on coastal monitoring and protection

- £115,698 to develop a coastal strategy for Robin Hood’s Bay and work associated with Knipe Point

- £44,239 for ground investigation at Robin Hood’s Bay

- £312,822 for emergency work at Whitby East Pier

- £31,450 to undertake Filey Ravines flood study

- £42,831 for Filey coastal slope study works

- £110,391 for aerial surveys of the coast.

Cllr Bill Chatt, the committee chairman, said: “Freedom of Information gives you that information but it doesn’t give you anything else.”

And Cllr Mike Cockerill added: “I am sure members will be amazed at how many projects we put out to consultants. I am suggesting that some of the items put out to consultants now benefit from being scrutinised.”

Cllr Godfrey Allanson said it was important that people realised that choosing consultants for certain projects made economic sense. He said: “Maybe they thought we were just going out willy nilly but they don’t know the economics of it. It isn’t possible to give the full story. I think we will stand up with most authorities and bear a good comparison.”