Millions ‘squandered’ on consultants to transform county council services

Labour county councilllor Michael Jones
Labour county councilllor Michael Jones

Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been ‘squandered’ on consultants to help conduct a ‘transformation of services’ at West Sussex County Council, Labour councillors have suggested.

The Conservative-led authority may have to find as much as £145million of savings over the next four years due to increased demand for services, rising costs and reduced funding from the Government.

In August, the county council projected a net overspend of £5.2million in 2018/19 and this led chief executive Nathan Elvery to instigate a vacancy management protocol, which meant that any new recruitment required his personal approval.

Now, the Labour group says it has uncovered £4.6million of spending by the council’s leadership with consultant PriceWaterhouseCoopers to conduct a ‘transformation of services’ review.

Labour has questioned the effectiveness of the spending and is calling for an immediate freeze of any further consultancy spending.

Justifying the spending, the council explained that it has already made £216million of savings over the last eight years and making big changes to how complex organisations work requires extra capacity and skills, with external advisors the ‘most cost-effective way to make progress’.

Labour county councillor Michael Jones said: “People will react with sheer dismay when they learn of the obscene amount of money that has been squandered by the county council.

“The public won’t forgive the Tories for cutting money on the services to the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities, at the same time they’re handing over millions of pounds to a multinational company.”

He described being ‘furious’ about the scale of the spending on consultants at the same time as housing support services run by charities across West Sussex are under threat.

The council is reviewing contracts with a range of organisations originally due to end in March. These have been extended until September while work is ongoing, but the charities involved have warned that losing this source of funding would lead to service cutbacks or closures. A final decision on the future of the contracts is expected in December.

A Freedom of Information request response revealed that £329,151 was paid to PwC in 2016/17, then £1.86million in 2017/18 and £2.455million in 2018/19 and future years.

A spokesman for the county council said: “As with other local authorities around the country, West Sussex County Council faces unprecedented financial challenges.

“The council has to look at transforming how it uses its resources in services in the most efficient way.

“The more significant areas of investment in our external advisers has been to give additional capacity to our children’s and adults’ services, who face the most significant pressures.

“Making big changes to how complex organisations work requires additional capacity and skills and using external advisers is the most cost-effective way to make progress.

“West Sussex County Council has delivered cumulative savings of over £216m over the last eight years in the face of a reduction in core funding from Government.

“The prudent use of external advisers will continue to help us identify further efficiencies and savings, whilst we maintain the delivery of our key services.”

Sue Mullins, Labour group leader at County Hall, said: “There is precious little evidence that this council has got any benefit at all from this consultancy. The county council already employs many senior, and very highly paid, members of staff who should be capable enough of finding ways to make savings and re-organise service delivery, without needing to get a large bunch of external consultants in.” xxx