Council chiefs justify �800k consultancy bill

Almost �800,000 has been spent on consultants in just one year, and district bosses have justified the expenditure.

A report by the audit and governance committee confirms that East Devon District Council has spent �797,903 on 19 major consultants - and 144 smaller ones - ranging from accountants to building experts, to tax advisers, in the 2010/2011 financial year.

The expenditure, which includes work by the University of Southampton, LDA Design (Exmouth Masterplan), and PricewaterhouseCoopers, is the equivalent to 80 per cent of the reserves that EDDC dipped into last year to balance the books.

A council spokesman said: “There are some 46 lines of work, all concerned with specialist services of one kind or another.

“In particular, there are many services from architectural or planning consultants who were employed to advise on technical issues on a number of key projects that are or will be of significant benefit to the district.”

He said examples included Cranbrook, the Exmouth Masterplan and Seaton Visitor Centre and added that �42,000 was spent for specialist VAT advice, which resulted in a refund of �244,000, therefore generating �200,000 for the council.

“Spending on consultants for set periods of time, as and when they are needed, is a recognised and cost-effective way of getting the work done without having highly-paid specialists on the full-time payroll,” he said.

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“While the total figure of just under �800,000 may seem like a lot of money, it must be seen in the context of the council’s overall annual spend of �83m, of which it is less than one percent or the overall economy of East Devon (figures taken from Devonomics report on East Devon’s district profile), which is some �1.6b.”

He added that just as members of the public might pay a computer expert to repair a PC or employ an architect to design a home extension, so the council has from ‘time to time’ employed technical experts to do specialist work.

“This constitutes an investment in the future of our district and one that pays significant dividends.”