The Lead Councillor for Resources introduced the report submitted to the Committee. He advised the meeting that total spend on agency and consultants in 2021-22 was almost unchanged from 2020-21, the spend on consultants had fallen by sixteen percent in the same period. He indicated that the net cost to the Council had reduced by almost £10 million to approximately £5 million. The Lead Councillor for Resources noted that the Council’s preferred supplier for agency workers accounted for fifty-two per cent of agency spend in 2021-22, up from twenty-four percent in the previous year.
The Interim Senior Specialist Procurement outlined to the Committee the progress in controlling consultant and agency spend, improvements in the governance process, and the work of the Corporate Procurement Board.
During the ensuing discussion a number of questions were raised and responded to:
· In response to a question about the forecast spend for 2022-23, the Lead Councillor for Resources advised the Committee of £700k budgeted for agency staff, referred to capital spending of £99 million approved by full Council in February 2022, and advised that that there would be an increase in staff in the Council’s procurement service. The Lead Councillor for Resources advised that the details of the consultancy spend on projects were set out in the business case reports submitted to the Executive or full Council. The Director for Resources confirmed that forecast spend was normally included in budget reports.
· A member of the Committee noted that the £2.1 million reduction in revenue spending in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21 was impressive. The same member of the Committee suggested that the report submitted to the Committee might in future be considered annually by the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee rather than the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The Chairman indicated that the suggestion was best discussed outside the meeting.
· The Lead Councillor for Resources indicated that the governance changes targeted improvements in procurement and contractual arrangements for consultancy and agency spending. He stated that the Council were recruiting permanent staff whenever possible, rather than using agency staff.
· The Lead Councillor for Resources praised the detail provided within the report submitted to the Committee. In response to a request from a Committee member for more information to be provided within a future version of the report, the Director of Resources outlined the governance structure for reporting and monitoring the budget for each project and questioned the appropriateness of adding such major project details to reports considered in public. The Director for Resources indicated that details of major projects would be shared with any Councillor requesting them. A member of the Committee suggested that the inclusion of additional information in future versions of the report would lead to duplication of work undertaken elsewhere in the Council.
· A member of the Committee asked what the target was for agency spend with the Council’s preferred supplier and was advised by the Interim Senior Specialist Procurement that 100 per cent was unrealistic as certain skillsets were unable to be delivered through the Comensura framework used. In addition, the meeting was advised that further consolidation of the suppliers of agency workers was unrealistic.
· In reply to a question from a Councillor about the lack of planning officers available through the Council’s preferred supplier for agency workers, the Lead Councillor for Resources referred to the difficulties of recruiting and retaining staff in Guildford and the south-east generally. In response to a suggestion from a member of the Committee for a more flexible approach to staff remote working, the Director of Resources indicated that the Council’s agile working policy could be expected to be reviewed periodically.
The Chairman noted the clearness of the information presented in the report submitted to the Committee and the ability of Councillors to obtain further details from the Director of Resources and other officers.
The Chairman thanked the Lead Councillor for Resources and officers for attending and answering questions.
RESOLVED: (I) That the 2021/22 spend position on consultants and agency workers as presented in the report submitted to the Committee be noted. (II) That an Update Report on Spend on Consultants and Agency Workers be provided annually to the Committee.