Senior Tory brands Labour’s £215k consultancy proposals ‘waste’ of Worthing taxpayers’ money – amid council spending more on ‘consultancy’ in single month

Conservative councillor and borough council deputy leader Kevin Jenkins
Conservative councillor and borough council deputy leader Kevin Jenkins

A Conservative councillor has described Labour’s proposals for consultancy work in the year ahead as ‘a waste’ – amid the council appearing to spend more on external support in January alone.

Labour called for a report into the benefits of merging Adur and Worthing councils, alongside other proposals in budget amendments, which were voted down at a meeting of Worthing Borough Council last Tuesday. Click here to read more about the merger proposal

Labour group leader Beccy Cooper

Labour group leader Beccy Cooper

Writing on the Herald’s Facebook post about the story last week, deputy leader Kevin Jenkins said: “In all Labour proposed spending £215,000 of local taxpayers’ money on consultants and consultants’ reports.

“Money that should be used/spent locally in Worthing delivering services. What a waste.”

The council appeared to spend more on consultancy work in a single month than Labour proposed as part of the annual budget.

The council’s public register of payments to suppliers over £500 listed 23 payments in January, 2019, under the heading ‘consultancy’.

Sub-headings ranged from ‘construction’ to ‘technical and feasibility’. They totalled £219,989.

Councils call-in consultants for a variety of reasons – from major projects to day-to-day advice on matters such as complex planning applications.

Papers to the joint strategic committee – comprising Adur and Worthing councils cabinet members – over the last two years outlined consultancy support for numerous reasons.

Asbestos in the town hall, crematorium upgrades and treasury management were among the issues documented.

But consultants were also hired to work on major projects and strategies, committee papers confirmed.

The council was asked to confirm its spending on consultants for 15 projects since 2016.

They included the Brooklands Park masterplan, analysis of the cultural impact of the town’s theatres and numerous ‘strategies’, including a seafront investment plan.

The council did not provide an official comment.

In response to the comparison between the apparent January consultancy spending and Labour’s proposals, Mr Jenkins said: “There will always be a need to use consultants to provide expertise or technical knowledge for areas of work that form your strategic direction. These should add value in that they help progress. Not simply reports that may then sit on shelves.”

Labour said government ‘austerity cuts’ made it unlikely its proposed projects on recycling, housing and the merger could be carried out by council officers.

Group leader Beccy Cooper said: “We would, of course, have been delighted if our Conservative colleagues had declared officer capacity to undertake these reviews but, with the appalling austerity cuts imposed by national Government, we came to the conclusion that this was unlikely to happen.

“We make no apology for trying to move the agenda of the council into these key areas that Labour is leading on – housing and the environment. And we see huge benefits in ensuring we are looking outside our boundaries for expert information and best practice.

“Moving forward, we will continue to push for innovative thinking in these essential areas for the wellbeing and development of Worthing.”