St Albans Council spends £1.2 million on consultants

31 May 2017 Consultancy.uk

St Albans City and District Council spent £1.2 million on consultants in 2016/17 according to a report to its Cabinet. The bill for external experts was £439,000 more than the previous year, with the increase matching a national government trend.

The incumbent administration of St Albans City and District Council has faced criticism from opposition groups regarding its expenditure on the professional service industry, echoing figures which from the National Audit Office which recently showed the government handed over £1.3 billion to consulting firms in 2015.

According to a recent report tabled before St Albans’ Conservative-led Cabinet, the Council used £1.2 million throughout the year to engage external consulting services.

The highest area of outflow in this regard was sports, leisure and heritage, which spent £1,084,000 on consultants. Of this, around £440,000 reportedly ended up in the pockets of professional service contractors working on the redevelopment of St Albans Museum.

The overall figure could even be significantly higher, as the published calculations do not presently include consultants’ fees for processing planning applications, or legal costs.

St Albans Council Spends £1.2 million on Consultants

Liberal Democrat Opposition Councillor Chris White said, “When parking fees are going up, and charges are going up, and bearing in mind the constant stream of complaints I get about the planning department, I think it is time to completely revisit the priorities of the council.”

“Once-in-a-lifetime”

Portfolio holder for sports, heritage and leisure, Councillor Annie Brewster, has defended what she described as “once-in-a-lifetime” developments, claiming, “The professional fees on the new museum and art gallery, the old Hatfield Road museum, a new leisure centre, plus a new theatre are in line with funders’ guidance on substantial projects.”

While the spending in question has been cited as a one-of however, the council, which has also been running a “City of Expertise” programme under the leadership of Tory Councillor Julian Daly to encourage consulting firms to do business in St Albans, its budget for professional services grow continuously.

Through thick and thin, and across Party lines, the City and District Council bill for external experts has continued to grow, even in the face of a “hard times budget” set in February 2011 which, under a coalition led by Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Donald, detailed spending cuts of £2.2 million. In the six years since, during which time the Conservatives took majority control of the council, St Albans council spending on consultants has reached a total of £5,411,000.

Julian Daly, Chris White and Annie Brewster - St Albans

Daly, who stepped down as Council Leader at the end of May, is also CFO of Close Asset Management Holdings, a company that manages approximately £0.7 billion of commercial property for pension funds, charities and investment trusts, with the company reportedly doubling in size during his premiership at St Albans. Speaking in January on the Council’s continued commitment to doing business with consultants, Daly said: “It’s widely acknowledged that our District is an important centre for a wide range of professional services.

“St Albans is often described as a great place to live and we want to get across the message that it’s also a great place to work,” he continued, concluding, “As a Council, we are doing our bit to help with this work and boost the local economy.”

The controversy surrounding St Albans’ spending on consultants arises at a time when the cost of professional service companies to the public is also under scrutiny nationally, with a Parliamentary report earlier this year warning Civil Service leaders to take care when outsourcing costly expertise for the implementation of Brexit. Earlier the National Audit Office had also published figures showing government spending on the consulting industry had reached £1.3 billion in 2015, with the largest suppliers being the Big Four Firms PwC, DeloitteKPMG and EY as well as UK headquartered PA Consulting Group and American strategy giants McKinsey & Company and The Boston Consulting Group

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