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Kent County Council spent £8 million on consultants last year in 'shocking waste of taxpayers’ money' say Unison

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Kent County Council spent £8m on consultants last year - roughly the total budget of a district council.

Trade union Unison is criticising the council for a "shocking waste of taxpayers' money" used on external experts.

This comes a week ahead of the county council finalising its budget for the next financial year.

Kent County Council spent £8m on consultants last year
Kent County Council spent £8m on consultants last year

Unison hope less money will be spent on these expensive advisors as this money could be spend on frontline staff.

Chair of the Kent branch of the union Shane Mochrie-Cox said: "While we note that this is a reduction in last year’s funding and this is welcomed, we still despair that in the last full financial year a total of £8m was spent on consultants.

"This is still near the equivalent total budget for a district council and is we feel in many cases a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money.

"If we have a service need for specialists for a short period of time on a one off basis then I am sure a business case leading to a tendering exercise would be appropriate for a fee that is reasonable for the time spent.

"We expect to see a robust plan in place for the 2019/20 budget to substantially reduce the cost of consultants in this upcoming financial year and shall be asking for this data when it is available to be assured that this is the case."

County Hall in Maidstone
County Hall in Maidstone

Mr Mochrie-Cox and his team have also raised concerns about money being spent on the highest pay grade while benefits for lower paid staff are being cut.

Unison has calculated that 335 posts at grade 13 cost the council £26.58m last year.

This is the equivalent of about 550 social workers, 1,500 cooks, 1,100 early help unit workers, 1,600 business support staff, 1,300 community wardens or 900 highways engineers.

He added: "A rough estimate of costs states that this is about £450,000 worth of management again before you get to the frontline and engagement with the public.

"Therefore we argue that a rationalisation of senior management structure before any more frontline job cuts or restructures are made.

"You cannot have staff on the frontline achieving while managers get more; again this is surely a case of managers ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’."

Despite these concerns, trade unionists "appreciate the time taken by Kent County Council to keep trade unions informed about the budget in its draft form, how this impacts on various sectors of our members and most of all the public we all serve".

Mr Mochrie-Cox added: "We further appreciate and state that no officer or member comes into public service with the intention of cutting services that many of the most vulnerable in our communities rely on.

"So it remains disappointing that we have more cuts this year and over £60m of cuts planned for the next financial year with £12m more currently forecast the year after that.

"The Prime Minister has declared austerity is over and yet we do not see this in the local government finance settlement."

Kent County Council has been contacted for a comment.

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Peter Oakford said he will not comment ahead of the budget debate scheduled next Thursday (February 14).

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