Council reveals £600,000 bill for consultants

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MORE than £600,000 has been spent so far on consultants by county councillors looking to privatise some of the services they provide.

That bill, once totted up, will be even bigger as fees for lawyers and accountants will have to be added to it, Northumberland County Council has admitted.

The £600,000-plus total has been revealed in response to a query from a member of the public about a rumoured £1m bill for consultants, as reported in last week’s News Post Leader.

It was detailed in a written reply to Kevin Little, of Haltwhistle, after officers and councillors failed to answer his questions about the bill at meetings of the council’s south west and south east area committees on successive evenings.

A couple of days before that reply, council leader Jeff Reid, of Plessey in Blyth, had told the News Post Leader he had no idea how much consultants hired by the authority would cost.

He said: “When you haven’t got expertise to hand, sometimes you’ve got to buy it in, but we are not anywhere near the point where any money has been allocated for anything.

“What you have got to remember is that the council is a half-billion-pound organisation, so when you want to do things it’s going to cost money.

“I have no idea what the figure will be.”

The council told Mr Little it would spend £393,320 on legal and financial advice about privatisation this year and £230,780 next year – a total of £624,100.

It also said it would have to “engage external advice for due diligence purposes, such as legal and technical finance specialists”.

Critics argue that the money would be better spent on council employees’ work because a profit margin must be built into any deal with a private-sector company.

Labour group leader Coun Grant Davey, of Blyth’s Kitty Brewster ward, said: “If this level of expenditure was channelled towards the in-house option, then I’m sure a positive savings plan could be devised that would stop the wholesale sell-off of Northumberland.

“There is a real prospect of service disruption, statutory failures, lack of democratic accountability, and a serious potential that the ill-thought-out proposals will damage confidence in the authority.”

Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell has added his voice to opposition councillors’ calls to halt the privatisation of county council services, warning that any such moves would cost more and be less efficient.

He said: “It shows that local Liberals and Tories are blindly carrying out national policies and failing to stand up for local communities.”

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