Agenda item

Use of Consultants

To receive a report describing the circumstances in which consultants are used and the processes which are followed.



The Commission received a report that set out information about the Council’s use of consultants including the different circumstances in which they were used and the processes which are followed to engage them.


The Borough Treasurer presented the report which had been provided to the Commission. He informed Members that there were no standard definition of a consultant, and everything listed within the report was everything that had been charged to the consultant cost code, giving Member’s full visibility. Coding of consultants costs was not consistent between departments.


The Borough Treasurer reminded the Commission that it was important to recognise that consultants working in day to day services or through contractors were appointed via the tender processes


The highest consultant spends were on Atkins, who were key to construction projects such as Blue Mountain and Coral Reef and Activist and iESE who were involved in the Council’s Transformation Programme.


In response to Members’ questions the following points were made:


  • In the year covered by the report, the total spend had been £5.35 million.
  • Overall accountability for the decision to appoint a consultant was with the Service Director, they would ensure that the correct processes were in place. It would depend on the approach of the Directorate to determine whether Chief Officers and Heads of Service could also make the decision for lower spends.
  • If it was a high spend decisions, for example £100k, it would be a director decision and they would weigh up whether it was a beneficial decision .The Director would ensure that this went through the procurement process as set out in the Schedule of Delegation.
  • The term “No Payee Information” within the spreadsheets was unfortunate phrasing. It did not mean that the Council didn’t know who they were paying, but a consequence of the way the report had been pulled together. These were Journal entries where the payee information was not held against the account but held against the coding within the ledger. To find this information each of these items would need to be looked into and traced. The original spreadsheet contained 6000 lines of information, and the Borough Treasurer was happy to provide the information to Members on particular lines in excess of £5,000.
  • Temporary staff were employed through the Matrix contract and were coded against a different budget.
  • The spreadsheets provided to the Commission had been specially written and included all spend coded to consultants on the system, even if it had been a one off spend.
  • 90% of consultant appointments had been through a tender process. Every six months a sweep was done of all off-contract spend throughout the organisation, there was very little spend in this area.
  • Consultants on Major Capital projects were coded to Capital codes.
  • The Schedule of Delegation was set out for procurement processes and referred to regularly. This was set out in the Council’s Constitution.
  • The report had been prepared especially for the Commission and had not been supplied to the Auditors.
  • The Executive Member for Transformation and Finance commented that it had been reported at January’s Governance and Audit Committee that all of the Councils auditing systems were up to scratch.
  • Atkins had been appointed through the proper procurement process and  were providing support on significant programmes around the Borough, such as Binfield Learning Village and Coral Reef. They were providing experts at particular times of need as they are able to form and mobilise small teams at the time of need. The Council have struggled to appoint property expertise, this was an issue throughout Councils in the South East. It would be a massive challenge for the Council to meet the demand for these specialist services internally.The One Property Estate project would be looking at developing a shared service across Berkshire. One Member commented that it was open to the Council to engage its own architects and other specialist personnel, and if they had spare capacity, to sell that service externaly.
  • The Transformation Programme would be reviewing all services to find savings.
  • The total budget for the Transformation Board had not been set at this time. Officers were being developed in house so that the Transformation Programme didn’t need to rely as much on Consultants going forward.
  • It was not known how much of the Atkins contracts were subcontracted out, Officers would look into this.
  • Capital spend included construction fees.
  • Directors and Officers would decide how best to use the funding available to achieve the desired outcome within member approved budgets.
  • The analyse phase of the Transformation Programme had been different than what had been expected, therefore the original projected £70k cost of Activist had increased to £227k due to there being insufficient in house resources or expertise. For the Plan Phase of the Transformation Programme, in house resource was being reviewed and mapped to determine what external support was required.
  • Consultant support for the Transformation Programme was not tendered annually, but part of a four year framework which had been agreed.
  • It was difficult to compare Bracknell Forest’s Consultancy spend with other Local Authorities as there wasn’t a universal consistent approach.


The Chairman thanked the Borough Treasurer for pulling together the report which was of considerable interest and commented that it had opened many Members’ eyes and raised more questions than it had answered. The need for using consultants was understood but the process of appointing consultants required sufficient internal expertise and needed to be closely monitored to determine that the Council was getting best value for money.


It was thought that more useful work could be done for Members to gain a better understanding and to keep the document live, therefore the Chairman proposed a motion that it would be worthwhile for the Members’ to form a working group to investigate and understand the process more.


Members endorsed the Chairman’s proposal for a working group to be introduced.


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