Last week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council heard the local authority has paid £60,000 to private consultants for a report riddled with spelling mistakes and consisting of 76 powerpoint slides, some of which contained just a phrase or a number of bullet-points.
The matter was raised by Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter who said, “At the last meeting of the Business Plan Implementation Group we were given a report on housing repairs. Contained within was a summary of a report on demand for repairs compiled by the consultants iMPOWER. It occurred to me at the time that most of what was presented in summary could have, and probably did, come from North Ayrshire Council internal sources. This is not an unusual position and I don’t have a problem with that, provided the end product represents good value for money.”
Cllr Hunter continued, “I asked the officers present how much the report had cost and was told £60,000. Naturally, I asked for a copy of the report, which I have since received and read thoroughly.”
The Ardrossan councillor then revealed the report contained just 76 powerpoint presentation slides. “There is some narrative in some of the slides,” said Cllr Hunter. “As I suspected, most, if not all, of the data came from North Ayrshire Council sources and, in fairness, that is acknowledged by the authors [iMPOWER]. In presentational terms the report is poor, with words out of context, for example ‘route cause’ rather than ‘root cause; ‘derived areas’ rather than ‘deprived areas’; and references to the ‘contract centre’ rather than ‘contact centre’, plus inaccurate references and unacknowledged sources of material. These are not isolated typos but occur many times. Spell-checkers are no substitute for proof-reading and a basic grasp of the English language.”
Cllr Hunter said that, in his opinion, “many of the report’s recommendations seem to be based on simplistic assumptions with respect to cost, officer time and deliverable outcomes within unrealistic time-frames,” adding, “I would like to know how many of the predicted savings within the two-to-three months elapsed from the date of the report have been fully implemented and what level of savings have been achieved?”
Responding for the Council’s SNP administration, Cllr Anthea Dickson, Cabinet member for Health & Social Care, explained why the Housing report had been commissioned from private consultants, “Senior management – who run the best and administratively-lean housing service in the country, not to mention the Quality Scotland Business Award winner – felt strongly that they had no internal capacity, did not want to divert people from their main jobs to conduct research internally but were clear that the evidence had to be gathered. The emphasis was to keep the focus on managing the service and the extra work that [UK Government] Welfare Reform has brought in.
“The size of the repairs budget - £4.992million – and the required savings of 20-percent are so significant it was felt the investigation had to proceed so that future work would be targeted precisely where it is needed. For speed of delivery, accessing the right expertise to do the work and for the short period of time to do it, it was agreed that iMPOWER who had knowledge of our housing sector should carry out the work.”
Cllr Dickson added, “Introducing the recommendations within the report, combined with a revised schedule of rates and procedures for repair-ordering, has resulted in the repair costs in July 2013 being over £600,000 below the year to date budget.”
John Hunter then asked if the consultant’s report had been presented to any committee of the Council and, if so, what actions had been agreed.
Anthea Dickson replied, “I think it went to Cabinet, but I will need to check.”