A Freedom of Information request shows that St Helens Council spent £1.6m on 36 consultancy contracts between 2021 and 2022, and a further £3.7m on 50 contracts the following year.
Another 900k was spent on 30 contracts up until September 2023, the request shows, while an estimated £9.5m will be spent on consultancy fees during St Helens and Earlestown’s regeneration projects, although this will be funded by the English Cities Fund.
What are consultants used for?
The council says that although it has a “highly skilled workforce” that delivers a diverse range of services across the borough, consultants are often used to provide “specialist knowledge” and assist in providing “high quality” services.
Over the past few years, experts in various fields have assisted the council on a range of schemes and services.
This includes large regeneration projects such as those in St Helens and Earlestown, as well as school improvement, SEND support, highways projects, adult social care services, and more.
How are consultants paid for?
The council explains that the money used to pay for consultancy contracts is “funded from a variety of sources”.
Some of the fees are generated from its capital budget, which comes from external grants, selling assets, and government borrowing.
Fees are also paid for from the council’s revenue budget, which comes from council tax and government grants.
The use of ringfenced grants, to be used on specific projects, has also been used when appropriate.
The council previously told the Star that £9.5m will be spent on consultancy organisations throughout the first phase of regeneration in St Helens and Earlestown town centre.
This is reported to be funded by the English Cities Fund, which is a regeneration partner set up in collaboration with the public and private sector, and is helping to fund the transformation projects within the borough.
Are consultants value for money?
With a large workforce, St Helens Council says that consultants are only used when “absolutely necessary”.
They are said to be a particular help on ambitious regeneration projects as well as short-term projects when it would be difficult to recruit staff.
As consultants offer specialist advice, expert opinion, and additional capacity, the council says that their impact “delivers value for money”.
Nevertheless, some would argue that the millions of pounds spent on consultants could be better spent on improving public services across the borough, particularly after a decade of austerity, a cost of living crisis, and with certain library services set for closure.
St Helens Council statement
A St Helens Borough Council spokesperson said: “As a council we have a highly skilled workforce who support us to deliver on a diverse range of schemes covering everything from big infrastructure projects through to delivering critical care services for our most vulnerable residents.
“Yet there are certain areas across all departments were specialist knowledge helps us to provide the high-quality services that residents expect and for that we need to use outside organisations with the right expertise to help design services across all areas of the council.
“Many of these specialists have helped with our ambitious regeneration plans but is not limited just to this area of work and are also helpful for work on time limited projects which would be difficult to recruit temporary staff in to post.
“Consultants are used only when absolutely necessary but their impact is delivering value for money by offering specialist advice and additional capacity over a short time frame to boost the work our organisation does.”