Tag: consultants

I confess I don’t often see eye-to-eye with communities secretary Eric Pickles. As supposed champion of localism, he has done so much to undermine local decision making in the last couple of years. He just doesn’t have a grip on how decisions in Whitehall and at the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol undermine public confidence in the planning system and betray communities who have worked hard to get a local consensus. But on one matter I am in total agreement with him. He has challenged councils to publish details of how they spend their money. Shropshire Council has joined in with the majority of councils to publish information on bills above £500 – though the process does not work smoothly. I am still waiting for the financial information for October to December last year – nothing at the moment gets published unless it is chased. Shropshire Council keeps too many secrets about the way it spends our money. We may not know for thirty years what the council’s Audit Committee thought about the huge consultancy bills officers and the Leader of the Council have run up in the last couple of years. We will not know for months how much the…

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The Conservatives on Shropshire Council have rejected out of hand Lib Dem proposals that would have repaired the county’s roads, supported small businesses and young people, and improved transport for disabled people. Nigel Hartin, leader of Shropshire Liberal Democrats, says he is angered by the council decision. “When will this council begin to use its budget wisely? It splashes out hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants, but it won’t make sensible changes to its budget that will help the boost the local economy. It piles money into reserves but rejects out of hand proposals that will help the elderly, the vulnerable and the young.” The Liberal Democrat proposals, rejected at this morning’s Council meeting, would not add a penny to council tax. The £4.185 million cost of the proposals can be found within existing resources [1]. One proposal rejected by the council was £2 million boost to the roads maintenance budget. As Nigel says: “Shropshire’s road network has suffered terrible damage in recent months. Our wrecked roads are dangerous for drivers and pedestrians alike. But it seems that council leaders are oblivious to the state of our roads. Do they drive around the county with their eyes closed?” The…

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The Shropshire Star published my letter “huge bill for consultants” today. Thanks guys! The essence of the letter is that despite council leader Keith Barrow telling us that his council is completely open about how it spends its money, it had stopped publishing detailed financial data in April 2012. Keith was unaware of this when he told BBC Radio Shropshire last week that freedom of information requests about payments are unnecessary because “it’s published on our website”. The lack of data was raised on Twitter and later he tweeted: “@libdembodders I’ll make sure this is addressed, thanks.” Not long after today’s digital edition of the Shropshire Star hit the desktop, the data for April to October 2012 was published online. Thanks Keith! I am still puzzled about why so much spending is classified as miscellaneous expenses. In 2011/12, a whacking 8,287 items were classified miscellaneous, adding up to a cool £17.9 million of spending. These are payments that are so central to the council’s operations that it does not know how to classify them! How can an organisation keep tight control of its spending when nearly £18 million pounds is dismissed in the accounts as “miscellaneous”? Things haven’t improved in…

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This morning, BBC Radio Shropshire called council leader Keith Barrow into the studio to justify spending £619,000 on consultants (begins at 2:07). The interview was very revealing, not just on the huge consultancy bill but also on his leadership. It was fascinating and disturbing in equal measure to hear Keith explain how he had no control over consultancy costs for three years and only got a real grip when the council’s chief executive moved on. In trying to justify the bill, Keith more than once pleaded that other councils were spending more on consultants than Shropshire. Anyway, “it’s only one-thousandth of the gross budget,” he said. “It’s like someone who earns £30,000 a year spending £30 on a meal.” I don’t run with the argument that because other councils are splashing out on something, it’s okay for Shropshire to do so. Neither do I believe that because overall budgets are big, small amounts are trivial. No matter how large Shropshire’s budget is, every £30 counts. As Keith admitted, matters used to be a lot worse. Until controls were implemented in March 2012, consultants seem to have been employed rather willy-nilly. The March 2012 controls did not, however, order a review…

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