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The truths they don't want you to read....

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Use of consultants

In the very week when the BBC are having a go at Councils for spending £67m on "Consultants", a very pertinent report crosses my desk. I'd love to scan it and post it up, but my copy has identifying marks, so it is straight into the shredder after I have absorbed the contents.

There is nothing wrong with the use of consultants per se, what is wrong is the profligate or unnecessary use of consultants; or worse, unjustified use thereof.

But the Councils are the only sinners in this matter, all too often central Government demands the use of 'Benchmarking' (or some similar meaningless phrase) to determine if the Council is doing a good job. This involves flying in a consultant, usually selected from a very short list approved by the Government, to ask inane questions and to produce an inane report that no-one pays much attention to.

Except Audit Scotland who fly in a team of consultants to determine why you have insufficient 24-hour pay toilets, or too many recycling bins per tonne collected, or just the right number of corners per mile of road.

The Comhairle's share of £67m will be about £350,000, which given that they have been instructed by Government to spend in excess of £1m (by my best estimate) on the Housing Stock Transfer and the schools PPP/PFI alone, actually shows a degree of prudence © Gordon Brown of which we should be proud.

That makes the events of last week even sadder.

A private Report to Policy and Resources Committee (sic) aka the Policy and Finance Committee, in the name of the Chief Executive proposed a restructuring of the Social Work and Education departments to establish a new Children's Services Department* and the proposed course of action was:
  • The appointment of a consultant (without tendering) to oversee the function
  • The appointment of Mrs Chief Executive as a consultant to the process
  • A new Head of Service post to be considered
The appointment of consultants without tendering is a difficult process fraught with danger, but where the report makes no reference to the costs to be incurred (except to say that they can be met from within the budget for restructuring) or the duration of the contract period (other than a hope to have the report by late June), then one is bound to ask questions about the whole process.

Why was there no time to put the consultancy post out to tender?

Can no-one see the difficulty in having Mrs Chief Executive (however appropriately well qualified) inputing a crucial contribution to a report to Mr Chief Executive about a potentially fundamental change to the structure of the Comhairle, including the creation of a Head of Service post for which she would seem to be eminently qualified? We had this problem before in the Education sector, and no-one stopped a very expensive and ultimately futile policy proceeding. A policy that had only two beneficiaries and 26,000 losers.

Presumably this went through, but as the Council web site only gives Minutes up to October 2007, and no details of any forthcoming agenda items, I remain in the dark.

* Presumably this is part of the restructuring plan due to have been delivered by the Chief Executive in 2006.

Many thanks to my mole for the copy report, but can any Councillors provide me with the justification for why this all really happened.


Anonymous said...


Council Neoptium Employed(in) Stornoway

Anonymous said...

Is it true that the changes were so unexpected, and had so little consulation, that a vey senior officer suddenly found that he was now under the control of another department virtually overnight?

This was so ill-planned that a Scottish Government civil servant who arived that morning had to be sent back to Edinburgh, as the reorganisation meant that no-one knew who now had the responsibility for the matters to be discussed.

Anonymous said...

The re-organisation doesn't kick in until the 1st of July, so the story about the civil servant may be apocryphal?

Then again, nothing would surprise me.....