Costly Consultants Causing Concern in Plymouth

Strange goings on in Plymouth with the City Council paying out £10,000 a day to costly temporary managers in order to pursue a project aimed at saving money. “It seems to me at this moment in time Plymouth taxpayers are being asked to take a tremendous leap in the dark in the hope that we get a result at the end of the day,” says one baffled councillor. “It’s far from clear what that result might be.”

The full story goes back to earlier in the year when Plymouth City Council (PCC) caused a storm by hiring 15 senior managers, each earning over £100,000 a year, with some being paid as much as £840 a day—the equivalent of £178,000 a year. The managers were hired for their expertise in dealing with a council budget shortfall over the next three years and were meant to find ways to save money. But PCC chief executive Tracey Lee hired the costly managers without getting the approval of city councillors, many of whom are now furious at the £5.8m splurge.

The most expensive consultant was appointed as an interim director of corporate services with a wage of £172,144, but that was way above the council’s set maximum pay of £136,877 for this post. The consultant’s appointment has since been terminated. All 15 temporary positions should have been advertised and the candidates interviewed by a panel including councillors. The council has been accused of a cover-up over investigating the expenditure.

“There was categorically no attempt to cover this up as has been suggested,” said a council spokesperson. “The council agreed an amended pay policy that aims to be more transparent than councils are required to be about the remuneration of senior interim appointments… Projects of this magnitude and ambition require expertise, specialist skills and capacity that councils do not usually have for running day-to-day services. Interim appointments are the best value way of acquiring the necessary specialist skills and capacity in the short term and are considerably less expensive than consultancy firms.”

A recent PCC report disagrees. Though using anodyne wording, its conclusions are clear. ‘We have continued to use interims, primarily to support us in the delivery of our Transformation [money-saving] Programme,’ says the council report, but ‘Moving forward, we have clear plans to reduce the reliance on interim support, imparting knowledge and development on to internal resources within the council.’ Plymouth taxpayers will be relieved to hear that!

Tim Newark is the Grassroots Co-ordinator for the TaxPayers’ Alliance in the South West