Friday, 16 October 2015

NAC: questions over costly consultant

Senior management of North Ayrshire Council face questions over a controversial external appointment of a consultant that, it has been revealed, cost local taxpayers £180,000 over little more than a year.

The matter initially came to light some months ago following concerns expressed by Three Towns Independent councillors Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter.  The shocking level of payment to the consultant was revealed this week in a council response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald.

However, in addition to the huge cost involved, a North Ayrshire Council employee who spoke to the3towns on condition of anonymity has claimed high-quality candidates were rejected in order that Mrs Sally Agass (pictured) could be brought-in as a consultant.

The insider said, “The job Sally Agass was originally employed to do was advertised externally as a full-time post, and there were very good candidates interviewed for the job.  There were at least two who were more than qualified to do the job, but the decision had already been taken to bring-in Sally Agass to do it.”

Mrs Agass is a former official with Waltham Forest Council in London and more recently has worked as a local government consultant.  She was employed by North Ayrshire Council through an organisation called Solace Group, which is actually the Society of Local Government Chief Executives, a body that represents council chief executives and senior managers.

In 2012, Elma Murray, NAC’s chief executive, was Chair of Solace Scotland, the Scottish branch of the London-based group that supplied Mrs Agass to the North Ayrshire local authority and which received payment for her services.  Solace subsequently paid Sally Agass.

Solace describes its work as providing its members “with opportunities for professional development and seek[ing] to influence debate around the future of public services to ensure that policy and legislation are informed by the experience and expertise of our members”.

The NAC source who spoke to the3towns said, “It has been an open secret that very senior managers wanted Sally Agass brought-in.  There are Solace links in all of this.”

The council employee claimed that employing one of the applicants for the originally-advertised post would have cost around £50,000, instead of the £180,000 paid to Solace for the services of Sally Agass.

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