Irish county council spends millions on external consultants

10 May 2019 2 min. read
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Carlow County Council has become the latest in a succession of Irish local authorities to come under pressure for its consulting spend. Combining 2017 and 2018, the council sunk a total of €3,597,626 into consulting work.

In the fallout of the global financial crisis of 2008, international and local leaders ultimately opted to bail out the financial system at the cost of the tax payer. Following colossal rescue missions for some of the world’s largest financial institutions, governments sought to cover the cost via an era of austerity. Ultimately, this funnelled down to the offices of local authorities, who were faced with the unenviable task of butchering local services, amid the repeated suggestion that these had become ‘unaffordable’.

In this atmosphere, it can hardly be regarded as surprising that a trend has since emerged of criticising local councils for their consulting spending. Having been particularly hard hit by the financial policies of the last decade, Ireland is no exception to this – and the Irish government has continued to reduce its spending on consulting, having come under sustained criticism for its outsourcing practices.

Combined spending of Carlow County Council on consulting services 2017 & 2018 (€)

This particularly picked up after a breakdown of finances for 2017 showed Ireland’s Civil Service budget allocation for “consultancy services, value-for-money and policy reviews” alone would rise by 15% to almost €10.5 million. Later, Irish health officials came under fire for having spent roughly €700,000 on private consultants since 2016. Meanwhile, on a local level, Cork City Council was cross-examined for spending €35 million on external advisory work.

Now, Carlow County Council has become the latest local government body to face scrutiny of its consulting cost. A Freedom of Information request by local news site Carlow Live sought the Council's expenditure on consultancy and professional fees in 2017 and 2018 – revealing that it amounted to a figure of €3.5 million. While that does represent a modest 7% decline, year-on-year, the sizable spend will still undoubtedly ruffle feathers.

Combined spending of Carlow County Council on consulting services 2017 & 2018 (€)

The most expensive area of consulting came in road transport and safety, with costs of €617,786 in 2017 and €531,558. While costs are falling in the sector, its total for the two years still surpassed the €1 million mark. Meanwhile, development management saw professional fees reach €853,422 over the two years.

Housing and building consultancy fees neared half a million euros. This is likely due to the rising spending of Carlow County Council under their local authority construction programme, i.e. standard construction, turnkeys and rapid delivery. In 2017, the council spent €4.37 million on this, a major increase on the €1.47 million of 2016. The changes to the built environment meant that over the two years, environmental services came to €469,967. Elsewhere, miscellaneous services accounted for €336,008 of the costs.