Yorkshire council defends plans to spend £70,000 consultancy fees in bid to save £880,000

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Consultancy fees are a “small sum to pay” in the long run, a Yorkshire council has claimed, as it looks to spend £70,000 seeking savings of £880,000.

Harrogate Borough Council, preparing to make efficiency savings across its parks, gardens, and environmental services, is looking for expert advice to tell them where the money can be made.

And while the initial outlay would total up to £70,000 in consultancy fees, the authority insists it’s the best use of taxpayers’ money as it would reap great benefits in the long run.

“It’s a small sum to pay,” said Patrick Kilburn, the head of parks and environmental services. “We have to make the financial savings to ensure that we’ve got a balanced budget. That’s a given.

“We are trying to find the best way of meeting those savings through efficiencies rather than cuts, so that we don’t impact on the quality of services.”

A report is to be considered next week seeking approval to appoint external consultants to review operational services within the parks and environment department.

Efficiency savings of £880,000 must be made in the next two years, it says, through a review of its parks and open spaces, street cleaning and garden, household, and recycling waste.

A new approach was needed, the report said, as the council is “looking for innovation, not an off the shelf solution” that has been rolled out in other authorities.

Motor transport and trade waste will also be under review, as the authority looks to “develop a commercial culture” to increase income streams and reduce costs.

And as approval is sought for a plan to appoint consultants to carry out the work, the authority argues there isn’t the resource or experience to carry out the review ‘in house’.

“If we could do it ourselves, my first port of call would be to do so,” said Mr Kilburn. “But we’ve got to make these savings.

“Consultants may well have worked with several authorities and will have a lot more experience, of where savings can be made but also of the pitfalls.

“We want to make sure that we minimise the impact on the quality of services that we provide.”

Last month, The Yorkshire Post revealed that more than £72m has been spent on consultancy fees for councils in the region in the last five years.

This sparked calls for the establishment of a new financial committee to oversee expenditure, with Don Valley MP Caroline Flint saying a body should be set up to monitor spending.

But Coun Michael Harrison, the cabinet member for environmental services on HBC who is to consider the report on April 25, said he was confident this spend would enable a better result.

“We have to think of the best way forward,” he said. “It’s not about signing a blank cheque and hoping for the best, this will be a review of the best way to find savings required. Then we can make decisions for years to come.”

The funding for the consultants’ fees would come from the Invest to Save fund, set up to produce proposals for making ongoing savings. The contract for the consultancy would be put out to tender.

This will be one of the biggest service reviews ever undertaken, Coun Harrison said, covering vehicle fleet operation, working patterns, staffing levels, depot facilities, trade waste and the use of technology.

“I am more than confident that this investment will result in considerable ongoing financial savings for the local taxpayer as well as providing a better service,” he added.