COUNCILLORS have backed a move to put the use of external consultants under greater scrutiny – against the advice of the council leader.

Following a vote in the East Renfrewshire Council chambers, contracts for the appointment of consultants will now face scrutiny if they are worth more than £10,000, with a detailed log of each deal to be made available to the public.

Until now, the director of a council department has been able to authorise a consultation if it cost less than £50,000, meaning it was not subject to scrutiny.

At the recent meeting of the full council, Conservative councillor Jim Swift took issue with this, tabling an amendment to lower the bar to £10,000.

He said: “I would like a log of awards to be made publicly available, including an explicit objective for that award, the rationale that sits behind it, the budget allocated, the actual project spend when it is concluded and which company was used. I would like all that in the public domain, as well as reducing the ceiling to £10,000.

“In my humble opinion, we have not used consultancy as well as we perhaps ought and I would like a little more detail on our use of consultants.”

Referring to the council’s use of Turner and Townsend for its public consultation over proposals for Eastwood Leisure Centre, which cost less than £50,000 and so was not subject to scrutiny, Cllr Swift added: “Frankly, it looks like an extraordinarily subjective piece of work.

“It looks like someone told them what they wanted the outcome to be, so they went out and got it. I would like a much greater handle on how we use consultants.”

However, council leader Tony Buchanan spoke against the amendment.
He said: “My concern is not around the figure, it’s with the amount of additional work that would be generated by bringing it down to £10,000, which I think is a significant problem.

“All of the information is already subject to FOI (Freedom of Information requests), so I don’t think the issues around any methodology that a company might use are relevant to the fact of the cost they may well be charging.

“I think we are potentially storing up problems for ourselves by going to a level which, quite frankly, would not necessarily be deemed as being significant in terms of the bigger picture and the contracts we’re likely to award.”

Councillors voted by a majority of eight to seven in favour of the amendment, to applause from the public gallery.