BASILDON Council spent more than £720,000 on consultants... to help it work out how to save cash.
Horrified opposition councillors and campaigners hit out at a “gravy train” culture at the Tory authority.
The council defended the move saying the big spend on the council’s so-called Transformation Agenda had put the authority on track to save £4.4million.
Part of this saving will see the council’s workforce reduce by a fifth, about 200 staff.
Nigel Smith, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said: “The amount is unacceptably high. It has created a gravy train for private developers. Why can’t this be done in-house? I’m not convinced they get the right advice anyway.
“If I sell my home, I have to go to an estate agent. I don’t go to a consultant to find me an estate agent, do I?”
The council has spent £1.5million on consultancy firms, for major projects, over the past two years. The authority insists the expertise was not available inhouse.
Yet the council paid £1million to its ten most senior officials last year and Mr Smith believes the authority should use some of this expertise, not costly outsiders.
The Echo obtained the numbers following a Freedom of Information request and Mr Smith called for the figures to be made publicly available.
In 2012/13, the council spent £926,141 on consultants, and £608,304 so far in 2013/14. It adds up to about £4,203 a day for taxpayers.
The figures include a total of £727,911 over the two years on its Transformation Agenda – a programme council leader Tony Ball admitted would see his workforce shrink by one fifth.
Robert Oxley, campaign director for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Consultants brought into save cash and change the way the council works should be paid by results, not paid huge lump sums up front. Councils need to cut wasteful spending, not splurge more cash on expensive outside help when residents already pay a fortune for staff.”
A council spokesman said: “Major change or regeneration projects may need to draw on expert advice quickly, to ensure the best outcomes, but those skills may only be required for the duration of, or part of, the project.
“It would not be a good use of taxpayers’ money to appoint staff to cover this need, as once the project has been delivered, that skill may no longer be needed.”
Advice on 'contentious projects'
THE Tory authority spent £1.5million in less than two years on consultants, who were drafted in to help with contentious projects.
They were sent in to help with the £1billion Basildon Town Centre Masterplan, designed to transform the town’s flagging shops.
It has cost £311,887 – but when rubberstamping the ambitious plans, the council insisted it would not cost the taxpayer.
A council spokesman said: “Our town centre consultants provide us with expert advice on areas the council does not need to employ staff full time for.”
It also insisted profit from the masterplan should ensure there was no cost to Basildon taxpayers.
A further £159,525 was spent trying to shift land at Ballards Walk to a developer, including paying thousands of pounds to a firm to draw up a planning application.
The land is being sold to developers to help pay for the Sporting Village, in Gloucester Park.
The spokesman added: “To ensure the optimum capital reciept was achieved for the site, it was necessary to appoint professional advisers to prepare and submit an outline planning application.
"The council cannot submit planning applications itself.”
£700,000 spent on programme to axe 200 staff
BASILDON Council admitted that while its Transformation Programme was engineered towards saving cash, it did have other aims.
The Tory administration has come under fire after it emerged it has spent more than £700,000 on consultants to help put together the programme, which will see up to 200 staff leave the authority.
A council spokesman said: “Whilst delivering efficiencies is an important part of the programme given the challenging position of the council, it is not the only object of the programme.
“The Customer Experience Programme has delivered a new customer service centre, including a modern, remodelled reception.
“This is already helping to improve the experience of our customers in dealing with the council.”
The authority also said the programme involved installing a new website and telephone system, as well as retraining staff.
It also insisted it has made savings of several million pounds, and despite this frontline services have been unaffected.
The spokesman added: “Consultants are used to provide flexibility where there is a specific need, but where it would not be economic to recruit additional staff."