Consultancy bill is eye-watering

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IT’S nice work if you can get it.

The bill for consultants and specialist services for Sheffield Council reached a staggering £4.4 million in 2008-9 and was only slightly less last year at £3.5m.

And when you look beyond the headline figure and see some of the huge salaries being paid and fees charged for services, you cannot help but feel there should have been more control exercised over the amount of money paid on consultants and temporary staff.

The fact the council has been able to slash the bill “significantly” tells its own story.

We should be in no doubt that bringing in experts to deliver complicated projects can be good business, especially if the end product will deliver significant savings.

Public authorities in particular may not have the expertise in their workforce and have to look externally.

But some of the salaries being paid are eye-watering.

Can the council really justify a salary equivalent to £131,000 to a man to oversee bringing in a single number telephone line for council services?

Granted, it should deliver considerable savings in the future, but when the salary nearly matches that drawn by our Prime Minister, the figure has to be subjected to proper scrutiny.

There are many other examples revealed by this newspaper today of super-salaries being paid out. But we should also look at the large amounts of money that have been paid for services such as public relations and for a public sculpture project.

The council will obviously have explanations for each spend. But in a climate where people will be losing jobs and services will be cut, they should rightly be called to account.

The bill for consultants is coming down. We expect to see that drastically cut in future.

Weary of singing the pothole blues

THEY’VE become a fact of life, a sign of the times, a 21st Century obsession. But there is still no comfort for our pothole blues.

New figures show cars damaged by potholes cost our councils almost £300,000 in compensation, paid out in a 10-month period from 2010-11.

Rotherham topped the payout league with a £183,417 bill, while the figure in Sheffield was just £3,236. Perhaps this is because the city council increased its highways maintenance budget to £2.5m.

But anyone who uses the roads has a pothole pain - whether they successfully claim is another matter.

The real issue is that permanent resurfacing will only be carried out when Sheffield’s £674m highways private finance contract is approved.

All remains ominously quiet on that particular issue. It’s time to sort out the fate of this contract so at least we know where we stand.