Southend Council has come under fire for appointing “highly expensive” consultants to advise on how to avoid a predicted £12 million deficit.
The council’s audit committee was told financial consultants Grant Thornton, which employs 5,000 people across 140 countries, has been working with the council for the last two months, advising on ways to save money.
The council has refused to reveal how much Grant Thornton’s advice is costing taxpayers, but insisted the help was necessary as it faces a “unprecedented financial challenge”.
During the meeting Rob McMullan, Lib Dem councillor for Eastwood Park ward, said: “We’ve employed highly expensive Grant Thornton to tell us how to save money so that’s a strange one in itself.
“The appointment of Grant Thornton, was that made by the cabinet? Do we know how much Grant Thornton are going to charge us for the benefit of their extensive knowledge?”
Finance officer Joe Chesterton, said: “Grant Thornton have been engaged to support us. They’ve been with us for a couple of months now, giving us their experience around analyzing our financial baseline in terms of how we compare to other local authorities and they have working with us looking at opportunities for savings proposals across the council that could help. to deliver the budget for 2023/24 onwards.
“I think it’s absolute value for money in terms of engaging those people to bring that expertise in to support us through what is going to be the most challenging period of local authority finances for many, many years.”
Following the meeting, Paul Collins, Lib Dem councillor responsible for asset management and inward investment, said: “The council, like all local authorities, are facing the most unprecedented financial challenge ever in local government history and Grant Thornton are providing independent financial advice in support of developing our draft budget proposals, not just for next year, but for future years and to make sure the decisions we make are fair and provide value for money to the taxpayer.
“The cost is minimal in comparison to the expert advice they will be providing to help us deliver a robust budget for 2023/24 and beyond.”