‘£4.7m consultants bill’ claim sparks row at cuts-hit council
A ROW has broken out at one of Yorkshire’s biggest local authorities over claims it spent almost £5m on consultants while making swingeing spending cuts.
Labour-run Sheffield Council has had to slash £140m from its budgets in the past two years and faces making a further £50m in savings in the next financial year.
Yesterday the authority’s Liberal Democrat group attacked leader Julie Dore claiming she had sanctioned spending of £4.7m on consultants in the past 12 months.
But last night senior Labour figures said the figure was just 10 per cent of that, with council officers producing figures which showed £543,000 had been spent.
The council has admitted spending £800 a day on one consultant who is “providing high-quality expertise on special educational needs funding”.
It also said others were on up to £700 a day to work on a “redesign of social care services”.
Releasing a table of figures yesterday detailing the council’s outlay on outside advice, the Liberal Democrat group’s finance spokesman Simon Clement-Jones said the situation “beggared belief”. He said the figures should come as a “particular embarrassment” to Labour councillors who announced a raft of cuts to front-line services last week.
But Labour said their opponents were “spouting untruths” and trying to divert attention from cuts which will have a “devastating impact” on Sheffield.
Coun Dore has been repeatedly criticised by Liberal Democrats, including Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield MP Nick Clegg, after she made dire predictions over Government cuts.
Coun Clement-Jones said: “Labour’s council leader has claimed the reductions in the Council’s budget could lead to riots in the streets. Therefore, it beggars belief that she approved almost £600,000 in consultancy bills in a single month.
“Couldn’t this £4.7m have been better spent on the services local people really care about?
“It’s time for Labour councillors to stop hiding behind the cuts and come clean about the money they’ve been wasting in the Town Hall.”
But last night Coun Bryan Lodge, the authority’s finance spokesman, rubbished the figures and said the Lib Dems were trying to deny their own Government’s actions.
“Spending on consultants is appropriate at times when they are helping us with particular projects where there is not the expertise within the council,” he said. “This is yet again complete nonsense from the Lib Dems who are trying to mislead the people of Sheffield through putting out figures that are incorrect.
“This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to try to divert attention from the fact that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems in Government are making devastating cuts that will seriously impact on services we are able to provide.
“Instead of spouting untruths the Lib Dems should stand up for Sheffield and stand up to this Government who are hitting councils like Sheffield at the same time as some of the wealthiest areas in the country are receiving no cuts at all.”
At the end of last week Coun Dore revealed how the council would cope with the cuts, and attacked communities secretary Eric Pickles for the Government’s “unfair funding settlement”.
The proposals include handing over half of the city’s 28 libraries to volunteers, reducing funding to arts venues including the Crucible and closing public toilets.
Finance bosses also confirmed they could demolish the Don Valley Stadium, where Olympic champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis trains, because it costs £700,000 a year to run.
Spending on consultants was also attacked by trade unions, with officials saying the 1,400 staff already sacked and 600 now at risk would be furious.
A spokesman for Unison said: “It is scandalous but not surprising. The council is spending £15m a year on agency staff including the consultancy bill. We should not be paying people this kind of money when the council is in its current situation. It is disgusting that such people can earn Premiership football wages when others are having to take redundancy.”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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