A SCRUTINY committee has agreed that Scarborough Council’s cabinet was right to approve a plan to bring in a team of consultants to identify areas where savings could be made.
The decision was called in by Filey councillor Sam Cross who felt that appointing Northgate Information Solutions UK did not represent value for money for either the council or residents – particularly when the authority already had a highly paid team of managers.
Under the programme Northgate has promised to deliver a minimum saving of £1.3 million over the next three years and will be paid around £800,000 for its services – with a guaranteed net saving of £2.3 million over five years.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting Cllr Cross said: “We need more clear transparency to members of the public and councillors of what is going on with Northcliff. We should be directed to what is to be cut – figures need to be identified.”
He added that he would like councillors to ask their constituents whether they preferred hiring consultants or asking management teams to identify cuts.
Cllr Mick Jay-Hanmer, who supported the call in, said: “We shouldn’t have to hire consultants no matter how much the money is. If we are to pay consultants we should get the heads of departments to save money. Something of this magnitude should have come down to full council.”
Strategic Director Hilary Jones said that the plan had been discussed at several council meetings since March and councillors should have been aware that an “efficiency partner” would be appointed.
She added that any saving would have a “minimum impact on frontline jobs” because the fees would not be paid from the council’s Revenue Budget – the largest budget and the one which funds staff salaries.
“If we were to try to recruit the efficiency staff today and retain it in-house it wouldn’t be best value. We will have access to specialist skills as and when we need them,” she said.
Ms Jones said that recent coverage of the amount paid by the council was misleading and, although £4.5 million had been spent on consultants over the past three years, more than £3.5 million had come from external funding such as grants.
Cllr Tom Fox, the council leader and cabinet chairman, said savings would have to be made and it was time to bring somebody else in to identify areas where those savings could be made.
Cllr Jane Mortimer said that the level of cuts which had to made were worse than she had expected. She added: “Northgate are being paid out of what they save and they give us extra savings on top,” she said.
But Cllr Mike Ward said he was concerned that precise figures were not being made available to councillors. He said: “We are paying £22,500 per month. I don’t know exactly when the savings are going to start coming in.”
He was advised that the expected savings were outlined on a month by month basis.
Two councillors voted in favour of the call in but the majority were in favour of the original cabinet decision.