Bradford Council pays London consultancy firm £1m – to help it save money – Yorkshire Live
Bradford council officers have defended a controversial decision to pay a consultancy £1m to help the authority tighten its budget.
The decision to agree the deal with London based consultancy group Impower was made by the Council’s Executive earlier this month.
But former Council Leader David Green (Lab, Wibsey) “called in” that decision – meaning it had to go before a scrutiny committee on Thursday.
At the meeting of the Corporate Scrutiny Committee, which was held virtually, he raised concerns that the Council had agreed to pay a significant amount of money with little detail being made available to Councillors on what the consultancy would be doing.
But officers argued that by working with Impower in the past, the Council had saved much more money than it had paid for their services.
Although the company had been paid over £2m by the Council in recent years, the work had led to many more millions in budget savings – members were told.
Officers said Impower had previously worked on reducing the Council’s Health and Wellbeing budget. This included identifying ways to prevent people from falling into the care system.
Bev Maybury, Strategic Director of Health and Wellbeing, said the work had looked at how spending a relatively small amount of money to help people remain in their own homes could lead to much greater savings in future, as they would avoid costly residential care. Mrs Maybury added: “A small investment at an early stage can save a lot of money in the end, and help people have a better quality of life.”
She said when she joined the Council four years ago the Health and Wellbeing service was facing a massive overspend.” She added: “We had struggled for quite a while trying to transform our services.”
Impower had helped the service change the way it worked, she said – something the Council had struggled to do by itself.
Councillor Mike Pollard (Cons, Baildon) said it was clear that good work had been done, but questioned if the savings had been “low hanging fruit.”
He asked if it was still possible to make significant enough savings to justify the pricey contract.
Members were told that the new contract would see Impower work with the Children’s Services department, an area of the Council that faced huge overspends.
Mark Douglas, head of Children’s Services, said there were over 1,300 children that were looked after by the Council, adding: “Some of their placements are incredibly high cost.”
One child was in a placement that cost £370,000 a year – members were told, and Mr Douglas said if Impower could help the Council prevent more children needing to go into care, it could make huge savings as well as improving these children’s lives.
Cllr Green questioned the timeline of the contract being awarded – pointing out that it did not go to the Executive until five months after the £1m spend had been agreed in the budget.
He said there had been mixed messages of whether the contract with Impower was a new one, or an extension of its previous work with Bradford Council.
Cllr Green said: “It is a bit of a bureaucratic mess.”
He had suggested the decision go back to the Executive so the details of the contract could be made clearer.
Although some members of the committee supported this, others questioned whether delaying the process could hinder Impower’s work to cut Council costs.
A majority of members voted to “release” the decision – meaning the contract can move ahead. They asked that the committee receive an update on the work in three month’s time.