Cost of consultants for St Albans council climbs to £1.2 million

PUBLISHED: 15:00 26 April 2017

St Albans District Council. Credit: Krishan Bhungar.

St Albans District Council. Credit: Krishan Bhungar.

Archant

Taxpayers stumped up £1.2 million for consultants for St Albans council last year, according to a report to cabinet.

The bill for outside experts in 2016/17 was £439,000 higher than the bill for 2015/16.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Chris White said: “It is an awful lot of money for a pretty small council, and a heck of a burden.

“When parking fees are going up, and charges are going up, and bearing in mind the constant stream of complaints I get about the planning department, I think it is time to completely revisit the priorities of the council.”

The figures do not include consultants’ fees for processing planning applications, or legal costs.

Chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, John O’Connell, said: “This is a huge amount of money and local officials need explain to local taxpayers why there has been such an increase in the last year.

“Of course consultants are sometimes necessary to bring in outside expertise, but it’s important that public sector organisations get value for taxpayers’ money.

“Council tax has risen over 70 per cent in St Albans in the last 20 years, and residents want to know their cash is going towards supporting front line services.”

The most profligate area was sports, leisure and heritage, which spent £1,084,000 on consultants.

Of this, £440,000 ended up in the pockets of architects, surveyors, and engineers working on the St Albans museum.

Portfolio holder for sports, heritage and leisure, Cllr Annie Brewster, said: “I agree that the overall consultants’ total looks a high figure, but we are getting on with it.”

She defended the “once-in-a-lifetime” developments, saying: “The professional fees on the new museum and art gallery, the old Hatfield Road museum, a new leisure centre, plus a new theatre are in line with funders’ guidance on substantial projects.”

In the last six years, St Albans council has spent £5,411,000 on consultants.

Head of finance for St Albans council, Colm O’Callaghan, said: “We are currently undertaking three highly-ambitious building projects, and almost all the spending on consultants has gone on that.

“A local authority of our size could not in practice deliver such complex and challenging multimillion pound projects without the help of a wide range of external advisers.”

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I should probably have taken the hint! Walking out into the garden recently an unprecedented flock of thirty or more crows raucously greeted me from the treetops at the bottom of my garden. Cawing and croaking these big, black birds clung clumsily to the top most branches and twigs, jostling and flapping to stay balanced in a constant flurry of feathers. There is always something ominous about crows – they are after all carrion crows, the vultures of the bird world – always watching for scraps and weakness that might mean their next meal.

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