Wrexham council rips up consultancy's business plan

18 June 2019 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

A council in Wales has opted to scrap business plans drawn up by a consulting firm for its arts and cultural hub. The Tŷ Pawb complex in Wrexham had its business plan re-designed after footfall figures were found to be significantly out of step with the initial predictions of analysts at Fourth Street.

Local councils across the UK have spent around £400 million on consulting firms in the last year alone. According to a report by The Times, this represents a rise of more than a fifth since 2014, and while industry figures insist that that figures fail to convey the value for money consultants provide, critics have used the growing fee to call into question the improvements wrought by engaging external expertise.

Now, a local authority in Wales has been criticised after tearing up business plans it paid to be designed by a consultancy, and which it insisted would be put to use just 18 months earlier. In 2015, Fourth Street was commissioned by Wrexham County Borough Council to develop a detailed business plan for the day-to-day operation, management and governance of an arts and cultural hub, named Tŷ Pawb, at the People’s Market building in Wrexham.

Wrexham council rips up consultancy's business plan

However back in 2017 the council’s executive board voted in favour of keeping Tŷ Pawb under council control for at least three years – with issues surrounding state aid and procurement legislation cited at the time as potential barriers to having the facility operated by a local trust.

Speaking at the time, Cllr Hugh Jones, Deputy Leader of Wrexham Council, insisted, “The situation is, the business plan remains exactly the same, it is just that the management structure and the delivery will be in-house rather than in the hands of a trust.”

Despite the reassurances that the Fourth Street business plan would be adhered to under the council’s control, just 18 months later a new business plan has been created. The plan, which entirely replaces the one created by Fourth Street consultants four years ago, aims to carry Tŷ Pawb through until 2024. It proposes a number of changes including increased parking charges, a move towards a reduced but “continued high quality offer” due to staffing and a focus on opening hours to target the early evening after work economy.

The news appears to come from a clash between what Tŷ Pawb initially set out to offer and whether in reality that promise can generate the revenue and footfall needed to generate “sufficient income”. According to local news site Wrexham.com, footfall was vastly increased on Fourth Street’s projections for Tŷ Pawb, however the original plan had some ‘ambitious’ financial targets which were scaled back towards the end of last year and have now been totally rewritten, as even with heightened footfall they may have seemed unrealistic.

In recent years, a succession of councils have come under fire for their consulting spending. In 2017, Cornwall’s council was castigated for spending some £750,000 on a single report into the benefits of tourism in the area – only for the firm in question to conclude somewhat underwhelmingly that Cornwall should promote "a sense of place" by emphasising the region’s relationship with the environment, tourism and food and drink.

In 2018, meanwhile, Northamptonshire County Council – once considered a flagship council for low-tax local government in the years of David Cameron’s national government – incurred the wrath of the public and the press alike for its consulting spending. The institution cut £40 million from its budget after wasting money on ‘frivolous activities’, while neglecting public services. The council made Christine Reed – Director of People, Transformation and Transaction for shared service partnership LGSS, which it jointly owns with Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes – redundant, only to employ her consultancy, Gradon Consulting, within the space of a month, on a £650-a-day rate – placing Reed in charge of a large IT project in the process. The decision to do so later prompted protracted scrutiny of the council.