Edinburgh Council spend £2.8m more on ‘specialist consultants’ year-on-year for major projects like trams and schools

Big infrastructure project like the tram extension have incurred costs for "professional services."
Big infrastructure project like the tram extension have incurred costs for "professional services."
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The city council spent more than £10m on specialist consultants from private companies last year – an increase of £2m from the previous 12 month’s bill.

Council chiefs tallied up £10.4m in the space of 12 months in 2018/19, including costs for big capital projects such as new schools, the tram extension, Meadowbank and housing projects.

A report to be considered by the city council’s finance and resources committee on Thursday, highlights that “revenue expenditure of £4.86m” for day-to-day costs and “capital expenditure of £5.56m” for big infrastructure projects was incurred for “professional services”.

Revenue costs have reduced by £811,000 from the previous year – but private companies have received £2.8m more for capital projects than in 2017/18.

Conservative Cllr Andrew Johnston said: “The figures are really worrying and there have been constant cutbacks because of local government funding reductions. The shortfall is made up with these hugely expensive consultants.

“To have a huge increase in the capital areas, questions have to be asked to whether we are getting value for money. A lot of people in the council with lots of experience have been let go and replaced by these contractors – but it’s really a false economy.”

Last year, £750,000 was handed over to consultants for major school projects at Queensferry High School, St John’s Primary School and “rising school rolls projects” such as expanding classroom space. More than £290,000 has been paid out to consultants to ensure the authority meets requirements of the Scottish Government’s expansion of nursery provision by 2020.

Refurbishment of North Bridge cost the council £230,000 in consultants’ fees last year and work for a replacement Burnshot Bridge over the A90 led to £160,000 being paid to a private company. Contractors received £1.4m for housing projects including £900,000 for delivering housebuilding while £1m was paid out to companies to press ahead with the new Meadowbank sports centre.

Green finance spokesperson, Cllr Gavin Corbett, said: “Any large organisation with the huge variety of projects which the council has will want to draw on outside expertise from time to time. I have no problem with that.

“However, I also want reassurance that the council is buying in just the right amount of outside advice and that it is making a difference. Otherwise, there is a danger of the old adage coming into play: of lending consultants your watch so they can tell you the time.

“With the council having had to cut budgets left, right and centre the last 10 years and further cuts looming, there is a risk of hollowing out public services, where the use of consultants ends up filling the gap as council staff leave.”

A council spokesperson said: “We recognise that the short-term specialist expertise of consultants helps us to deliver projects as efficiently as possible. We operate strict controls over external consultants and we regularly achieve a significant return on their use, rigorously monitoring our spend in this area. This report outlines these costs.

“It is, largely, thanks to the number of major capital projects this council is successfully progressing for our communities – important developments like the new state-of-the-art Meadowbank sports centre, much-needed new homes right across the city, brand new schools and nurseries – that we have a requirement to engage these specialists.”

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