Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Blood from a stone - more from the council accounts

Prompted by our recent trip to view the council accounts, (see Council accounts - and the value of FoI) one of our intrepid number, after being refused the information at the time, sent in a FoI request asking how much the council had spent with various companies, per year, over the last five years. I believe there is more information to follow but here's a starter, with some interesting figures.

First up are Atkins and Arup who have been gainfully employed by the council to produce various land use studies, design briefs and suchlike to encourage us all to believe in the financial viability of the various regeneration 'visions' emanating from County Hall. Atkins, earning £2.8m from the council over the last five years, were responsible for the site selection process for the new superschool (£511k plus £33k for a 'cost plan', yes a cost-plan, to Faithful Gould Ltd, a subsidiary to Atkins) to replace Pantycelyn, there was consternation at the time that this had been commissioned with no written brief from the council whatsoever. Arup Ltd (£2.06m over five years) were paid £6230 for a Travel Impact Assessment for the school site, which presumably drew the conclusion that it was perfectly reasonable for a pupil to spend over two hours on the bus every day. Figures for other favourite council consultancies such as Nathaniel Lichfield Partnership who specialise in retail assessments, have yet to be revealed.

Cwm Environmental Ltd is that recycling company 'wholly owned' by the council. It has had several mentions on this blog. I presume the payments, totalling £30m, are for recycling services but the relationship remains unclear. Hard to detect in this years council accounts, they were the subject of a significant 'administration error' in last year's books. The requirement that an elected member from the council sits on the Board of Directors to represent the interests of the taxpayer was dropped a year or so ago but apparently this is 'within the legal requirements' of an 'arms length company'. There we are then.

As ever, more questions are raised by the figures, why a private company Ffos Las Ltd had £20,000 in 2010 and why Ffos Las Racecourse Ltd (clearly related to the former) has had £44,917 over the past three years is a bit of a mystery (perhaps this is why they're having to review their Gambling Policy?..I'm joking of course).
As for law firms, I imagine the overall totals are substantial. So far we have the figures for one firm, Geldards LLP who, according to their website, specialise in commercial/property law; last year they were paid £984,057 by the council. The five year total, which includes that figure, amounts to £2.74m. The council lists 17 separate law firms and 18 law chambers on their books - this was the result of a FoI request made back in December 2010, the total spend on solicitors and barristers in 2009-10 was £711,832, this must have gone up a fair bit by now, especially as this one firm has had nearly a million in the last year alone.

Perhaps it's just me but I find all these figures quite alarming, particularly given the 'cash-strapped' status and necessary cuts to frontline services, as claimed by our local authority. With the introductionof tendering frameworks, companies providing various services are retained over several years, supposedly to avoid the necessity and associated costs of separate tendering exercises.
Unfortunately, given these figures, this might not be the most cost efficient method and given the difficulty of extracting the information (blood from a stone) it may not be the most transparent way either.

Of general interest, a recent Guardian article on the dangers to councils of outsourcing to the big boys;


Anonymous said...

Carl Sargeant is the Minister for Social Justice & Local Government in the Welsh Assembly Government. On this page it lists his responsibilities:-

Those responsibilities include:-

* The implementation of Wales Programme for Improvement (best value) by local authorities in Wales;
* Local authority performance and their accountability for it;
* The implementation of best value by local authorities in Wales;
* Public admission to local authority meetings;

So far he has been a miserable failure in all the above.

caebrwyn said...

Thank you @anon. As far as Carmarthenhsire is concerned, and from my perspective, I would have to agree.

william price said...

Geldards LLP is based in Cardiff! *Just saying as numerous local law firms would cry out for that spend*

Cneifiwr said...

The Guardian article is on the right track, but a pity they did not look at what has happened in the private sector, where outsourcing was flavour of the month about 15 years ago. I worked for years with major banks and companies which had outsourced swathes of their IT, and it always ended in tears. There are some very interesting case studies out there which ought to make councils stop in their tracks.