£3.5m in 12 months ... should Sheffield Council be spending millions on advisors?

Sheffield Town Hall
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SHEFFIELD Council spent almost £3.5 million on consultants in just 12 months - including temporary staff on six-figure salaries The Star can reveal today.

Among the appointments has been a director to oversee the council’s Customer First Programme, who was paid £131,000 for the 10 months from last April to this January - equivalent to a £157,000 salary.

The Customer First project includes setting up a single number telephone line for council services, and greater use of IT to improve efficiency.

Meanwhile, Paul Firth was paid £116,000 for nine months between last April and December - equivalent to £154,000 annually - to be interim chief executive of the taxpayer-funded development agency Creative Sheffield. He has now left the post.

The revelations come after the council announced it is to make £84 million of cuts, including axing jobs and reducing services.

Prime Minister David Cameron - who is paid £142,500 a year - earns proportionally less.

West Yorkshire-based training company Exemplas was the council’s most expensive consultant in 2010/11 - paid £153,754 to provide advice on ethnicity, disability and diversity to city businesses.

Other spending included £80,000 on a PR firm to promote an environmental campaign, £72,000 to promote Sheffield as part of England’s failed 2018 World Cup bid, and £74,000 a year on a consultant to advise on rebuilding secondary schools.

Council bosses said spending on some consultants for temporary roles was necessary - but said the authority has now reduced the bill significantly.

In the 12 months from October 2008 to September 2009, the bill was £4.42 million. That was reduced by 21.5 per cent to £3.47 million for October 2009 to September last year.

But Jon Mordecai, Sheffield chairman of trade union Unison, said: “The spending on consultants is not good news for Sheffield.

“The amount being paid for the Customer First Programme director is a huge sum when we are already paying contractor Capita to implement the project.

“With Creative Sheffield, when the old chief executive left, someone should have acted up in his place. It would have been more cost-effective.

“The amount spent on Exemplas is far too high when the council had its own diversity officers, who it is now getting rid of.

“The schools rebuilding officer could have been recruited in-house, and the council has its own media team - so I don’t understand why it needed an external PR firm.”

Sheffield Council said spending on business and management consultants fell 13 per cent between September 2009 and September 2010.

The use of other consultants - mainly for marketing, design and PR - decreased by 32 per cent, it said.

Chief executive John Mothersole said: “Consultants are mostly hired for temporary roles. If you take them onto the staff and then they are not needed at a later date, you then end up with a bloated council workforce.”

But he added: “Consultancy spend has reduced dramatically and it will drop even further.”

He said the amounts paid to Mr Firth and to the Customer First Programme boss included National Insurance and pension contributions, and were not representative of their actual salaries.

Mr Mothersole added the Customer First director’s role had not been included within the contract with Capita because the post was not needed for the duration of the project, so was being funded separately.

Sheffield Council leader Coun Paul Scriven said: “When we came into control in 2008, the amount spent on consultants was spiralling.

“At times there is a need for consultants, but we have reduced spending by 30 per cent since we came to power and we plan to cut the bill by a further £1 million next year.”