Consultant leading ‘transformation’ of Northants County Council paid £1,100 a day

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The consultant overseeing the “transformation” of Northamptonshire County Council to a series of mutual organisations earns more than £1,000 a day - a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.

In October, opposition members feared the Conservative-led authority was in a financial crisis, after it emerged the council was set for a £17.5 million overspend in the 2014/15 financial year.

But an FOI request has revealed that, over the past three years, the authority has spent thousands employing consultants to support the assistant directors of departments such as Trading Standards, Adult Social Care and in Public Health and Wellbeing.

It currently has 11 off-payroll consultants on its books, including capital financial advisor, Simon Johnson, who is currently employed by the council as “director of transformation” and is advising on moves to downsize the core workforce of the council and moves its services to a set of four “mutual organisations”.

His hourly rate is listed as £1,000 per day, though the council maintains his expertise will ultimately help bring around longer term savings.

A company Mr Johnson owns, Johnson Advisory, was also contracted to support the council’s Adult Social Care services between March 9 and May 31 in the 2014/15 year at a rate of £1,100 a day.

Leader of the county council’s opposition Labour Group Councillor John McGhee, (Lab, Kingswood) said: “When local authority budgets are being stretched by central government and we know there are more cuts to come, can we really afford to be paying someone £1,000 a day?”

Deputy leader of the group, Councillor Bob Scott, (Lab, Lloyds) added the number of outside consultants being used shows the council is suffering from a skills shortage at the top level.

Last year £252,663 was paid to Palvinder Kudhail Associates – a company owned by the assistant director for children’s services Palvinder Kudhail. The authority’s chief executive, Paul Blantern, earned £60,000 less than that last year. Mrs Kudhail was hired to help turn around the county council’s “inadequate” rated children’s services in 2013, though a Chronicle & Echo report from August revealed the county’s children’s services had received the sixth highest number of complaints to the government ombudsman in the 2014/15 year.

However, a spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said the number of consultants and independent advisors employed by the authority has “declined significantly” since 2010 over the last five years.

“There are now only 11 such individuals working for the organisation compared to 3,500 permanent staff,” he said.

“However despite this reduction in certain instances highly skilled specialist support is needed in areas where it is not available within the council and is only required for a short-period of time. This is where it is most cost-effective to buy extra support in.”

As for justifying the council’s spending in children’s services, he said: “We make no apology for paying for the very best people to help us make children safer.

“Likewise we are also going through the biggest transformation of public services in our history. We therefore need the very best financial and legal support to make sure what we do is legally and financially sound.

“The amounts of money we pay for this short-term support is the going- rate amongst these professions.”

Over the last five years the council has been forced to save £185 million from its budget and maintains the use of external advisors “continues to have, a key role in making these savings”.