A former minister has called for the establishment of a new financial committee to oversee council expenditure after figures showed local authorities in Yorkshire had spent millions on outside experts.
Don Valley MP Caroline Flint, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, said a body should be established to monitor spending after figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post showed more than £72m was spent in consultancy fees councils in the region over the last five years.
In Calderdale the local authority’s spend on consultants had decreased from
£1,234,949 in 2012/13 to £490,133 in 2014/15 but more than doubled the next year.
Council leader Tim Swift said the relief effort after the wake of the Boxing Day floods of 2015, which devastated parts of the Calder Valley, was the reason the figure for spending skyrocketed.
Hambleton District Council’s figure quadrupled from 2011 to 2016, reaching £405,838 from £98,481, which a spokeswoman said was due to investment in infrastructure projects that were part of its long term plan.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post Ms Flint said: “The figures suggest a growing reliance on consultants as local authorities reconfigure services or manage large projects.
“Value for money is essential.
“Local authorities need to be transparent about those costs and demonstrate what efficiencies or positive outcomes arise from their use.
“As England moves towards ever greater devolution, this needs to be matched by adequate scrutiny.
“At present, there is no equivalent of the Public Accounts Committee at regional and sub-regional level to audit spending. There needs to be for the public good.”
Of the local authorities that provided figures to The Yorkshire Post Doncaster had the highest spend at £20,986,000, followed by York with £11, 201,951 and Hull with £7,393,190.
Coun Mike Ross, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Hull Council, said the Labour-run administration was too reliant on consultants.
He said: “I think that undoubtedly the issue around local government cuts is you recognise that there is less funding in general the important thing is how you oversee and spend.
He added: “Those choices are critical.”
But the deputy leader of the council and portfolio holder for finance Coun Daren Hale said the spending had helped to secure the city’s future.
He said: “The investment is already paying dividends for businesses in the city through the significant increase in visitor numbers in the first weeks of 2017.
“Although the economic pressure on Hull has been extremely hard-hitting, we are determined that by investing in economic regeneration and our cultural offering based upon the City Plan, this will continue to bring a new found confidence and greater opportunities to the city and the people of Hull in the short, medium and longer term.”
Local authority spending on outside consultants is likely to increase with cuts to budgets and councils less able to employ staff experts, according to the chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee.
Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts said councils should look to “share” consultants with expertise in different areas before spending money in the private sector.