Policy assurance: ‘More transparency’ on council consultants

Cllr David Seaton. Photo: Peterborough ET
Cllr David Seaton. Photo: Peterborough ET
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Peterborough City Councillors promised more transparency surrounding the use of consultants during a council meeting at the Town Hall on Tuesday night (8 November).

The city council’s sustainable growth scrutiny committee met to consider a report about the use of external experts, which in 2009/10 cost city council tax payers £8.4 million.

In June, the Cabinet agreed to adopt 27 of the 32 recommendations made by a working group which investigated the issue.

The group was formed following years of campaigning by Councillor Mike Fletcher,

Last night, the sustainable growth scrutiny committee examined a report by Steven Pilsworth , the executive director of strategic resources, on how to implement the recommendations, and which ones were already in operation.

The committee asked Mr Pilsworth and councillor David Seaton, cabinet member for resources, to strengthen the rules surrounding what a consultant must declare.

Councillor Nick Arculus, who sits on the committee, said: “What we are trying to do is ensure consultants and interim staff comply with the same levels of scrutiny and transparency as staff.

“Could we not just take the existing policy and ensure it is applied to consultants and staff?

He added “Staff of the council have to declare whether they have an interest in a company. It would be quite wrong for staff to offer a contract to a company they had an interest in.”

It was raised by Cllr Ed Murphy, who felt the levels of accountability applied to members should be applied to all consultants.

But Cllr Seaton and Mr Pilsworth said it would probably be unworkable for large firms employed by the city council.

Cllr Seaton said: “It would be ludicrous for us to be writing to Experian, asking them about their employees when they are the biggest credit agency in the world.

“They are just not in a position to do that.”

But he said he will work with Mr Pilsworth to come up with new wording over the amount of information consultants have to declare when accepting a contract with the city council.

The new wording will be discussed with members of the committee before it is brought before the next meeting in January.