Posing questions about consultants

The Conservative View with Cllr Rob Lee SUS-170623-111550001
The Conservative View with Cllr Rob Lee SUS-170623-111550001

Hastings Borough Council spent over £1.3 Million on Consultants from 2010 onwards, this is a shocking figure and one we should not ignore. For an authority that would like us to believe that it is on the verge of financial meltdown their largesse when it comes to the expenditure of public money seems to know no bounds. If this money had not been spent we would certainly have been able to prevent the closure of the Harold Place toilets, and Ore toilets would not have even come under threat of closure at all. We would have had more resources to make our planning department run effectively and we could have paid for extra street cleaning, the list of missed opportunity goes on and on.

I first became aware that something was strange about the level of spending on consultancy when I saw the cost of the report looking into the purchase of the Sedlescombe North Retail Park. The report cost the equivalent to the annual salary for a Council Housing Officer and was produced by the same company that were acting as selling agents for the property. Unsurprisingly the report encouraged us to buy the property and glossed over the long-term problems with the site.

Hastings Borough Council SUS-171031-140241001

Hastings Borough Council SUS-171031-140241001

I submitted a written question to the Council regarding our spending on external consultants and the answer to it is mentioned in the minutes of the last full council meeting minutes on the Council website. There is quite a lot of data on the spreadsheet so I will select some highlights for you. The amounts paid out to different Consultants varies each year with last year being the biggest to date when a whopping £319,953.38 was paid out to 35 different consultants. Over the last few years we have paid Canterbury City Council £14,000, £114,000 has been spent on Development Management Consultancy and £218,000 has been spent in hiring 10 different sets of Consultants to advise on planning policy.

I am sure that some of the expenditure was worthwhile and may have potentially even saved us money further down the road. However, it is a question of priority. The Council spent over £24,000 on consultancy regarding climate change, a subject that concerns us all of course. However, I doubt it did much to advance our understanding of the topic and while this important research was taking place the town has seen an increase in rough sleeping. Would Hastings not have gained more from putting precious resources into tackling immediate problems in the town?

Unfortunately, it gets even worse. The answer I received from the Council was only a partial one as they have excluded from their response the following: Legal Opinion, Architects Fees, Surveyors, Design and Artwork, Accountants fees and Training fees.

These are traditionally areas of large expenditure so it will take some time to discover what the grand total of this extra expenditure is. I look forward to finding out and reporting it back to you.