SCOTTISH local authorities have paid out more than £40 million in fees to consultancy firms in the past year, new figures have revealed.
As councils wrestle with looming budget cuts, data released by 28 of Scotland's 32 councils showed 42m – roughly 115,000 a day – was spent on management and finance advice, with many consultants hired to help councils cut costs.
Edinburgh City Council was the highest spending local authority, outlaying 6.4m in fees last year. It was followed by North Lanarkshire, which spent 6.3m.
Elsewhere, Moray Council spent 3,375,500; Fife Council 2,670,000 and Glasgow City Council, Scotland's largest local authority, 1,305,700.
The documents, released by councils to the union Unison, also revealed that 6m of the total cost went to auditors KPMG, a firm which the union claimed provided advice on how to slash services and jobs. Dave Watson, the union's Scottish organiser, said: "Rather than concentrating on cutting services, politicians and the media might profitably look more closely at cutting the use of private consultants in local councils if there is a need to save money.
"Unison has published an alternative budget at UK level that highlights much waste that could be saved including by ending central government use of consultants, and this waste could also be cut in Scotland."
Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis said the use of consultants by local authorities had to be monitored closely. "We have to be wary of a market being created for external consultants, when we need our public bodies to be innovative and entrepreneurial themselves," he said.
"External advisers at considerable cost have the potential to help reform the delivery of services but they are not a replacement for in-house council work.
"That is why we have to closely monitor the amount of money being spent on consultants overall in Scotland."
A spokesman for local authority umbrella body Cosla maintained it was up to each council to manage employment of such specialists. "The use of consultants is both an operational and budgetary matter for individual councils," he said.
"It's not for Cosla to second guess the use of consultants. Councils will have taken that decision based on the specific need at the specific time. On many occasions consultants doing a short piece of work is the best way forward , but that is operational matter for individual authorities."
That message was echoed by Councillor Phil Wheeler, Edinburgh Council's finance convener, who defended his organisation's payments. He said: "Spend on consultants is closely monitored to ensure that we get best value for Edinburgh's tax payers.
"Staff costs in the council per head of population are also significantly lower than other major local authorities in Scotland.
"It is important to remember that the council engages consultants where in-house skills or resources are not available. Consultants are used to augment the council's capacity and the council benefits by accessing specialist knowledge, which is then shared with council staff."
A Scottish Government spokesman added: "While spending decisions are for individual local authorities, every part of the public sector must demonstrate maximum value for the public purse while delivering high-quality, frontline services."
Your authority (if they deigned to tell you)
• City of Aberdeen: 528,500
• Aberdeenshire: 1,162,400
• Angus Council: No response
• Argyll & Bute: No response
• Clackmannanshire: 382,000
• Dumfries & Galloway: 388,800
• City of Dundee: 365,000
• East Ayrshire:799,000
• East Dunbartonshire: 1,481,500
• East Lothian: 1,926,800
• East Renfrewshire: No response
• City of Edinburgh: 6,400,000
• Falkirk: 1,460,000
• Fife: 2,670,000
• City of Glasgow: 1,305,700
• Highland: No response
• Inverclyde: 855,000
• Midlothian: 99,600
• Moray: 3,375,500
• North Ayrshire: 1,700,000
• North Lanarkshire: 6,300,000
• Perth & Kinross: 1,389,100
• Renfrewshire: 1,064,000
• Scottish Borders: 1,404,700
• South Ayrshire: 1,442,500
• South Lanarkshire: 426,000
• Stirling: 1,330,000
• West Dunbartonshire: 161,500
• West Lothian: 1,690,000
• Western Isles: 1,410,000
• Orkney: 261,000
• Shetland: 462,000
• Total: 42,240,600