Stoke-on-Trent City Council have come under fire for using £8m-worth of consultants in just a year, with 33 individuals and 52 firms commissioned to provide services at the end of last December according to The Sentinel.
In January 2009 the TaxPayers’ Alliance revealed that Stoke Council spent over £11m on middle management salaries (£50k+) in the year 2007/8, up from £9m the year before and just £530k in 1996/7. What’s more our Town Hall Rich List in April 2009 showed that the authority was paying no fewer than 7 executives in excess of £100k per annum, with their salaries totalling over £855k.
In short, Stoke Council have been paying a great many people very decent salaries for their skills – so why must they hire in so many consultants?
Cllr Mike Barnes raised the issue with the city council:
"We are going through the budget at the moment and there are a lot of problems, with people being made redundant.
"My main thrust was how many individuals have been paid more than £500-a-day, which I think is 17. Anyone on that is being paid more than the chief executive.
"One name on the list, Mike Maunder, was only there for six months and yet he got paid £100,000. Is that value for money? Should we be paying consultants that amount of money to provide cover?"
Councillor Peter Kent-Baguley who is part of a group looking at consultancy fees seemed to agree that there is some call for concern:
"There is a role for consultants, where we don't have the experience, but recently it has got out of hand. It has become the easy option.
"There's quite a bit of use for project management which is not justified”.
Leader of Stoke Cllr Ross Irving is disappointingly dismissive of these worries, bullishly asserting that consultants are only used when needed and insisting that the majority of the cost falls to the ‘councils partners’ and therefore not the council taxpayer. Cllr Irving refers mainly to the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership who foot much of the bill, with ‘just’ £1.8m of the £8m falling on the council. What he’s missing is that this quango is still fuelled by taxpayers’ money, so whether directly out of council tax or from our other taxes, the public are still paying the enormous wages of these often unnecessary advisors.
Stoke’s had it’s problems of late, but it really is time for the council to get it’s house in order and it should be a 2010 priority to slash this inflated wage bill and prove that the well paid managers and executives in place can run the authority without such expensive external help falling on residents.