Agenda item

Spend on Consultants and Agency Workers for the 2022-23 Financial Year

To consider the Council’s spend on consultants and agency workers.


The Committee was advised that this was the fourth iteration of the above report providing an update in respect of the historical spend position in relation to consultants and agency workers, refreshed to include the financial year end 2022/23.  The report was first presented in October 2020, with update reports subsequently circulated in 2021 and 2022 assessing the impact of the recommendations implemented from the first report.  Financial data reporting had improved in the meantime.  Over the last financial year (2022/23), the Council reported spend of a combined total of £12.2 million in respect of consultants and agency workers across revenue and capital budgets compared to £13 million in 2021/22.


The report, which focused on departmental spend rather than project costs and examined the reasons for engaging agency workers and consultants, explained that the Council operated a compliant procedure through a company named Comensura in order to recruit such staff which was necessary on occasions, particularly when recruitment attempts had been unsuccessful for a number of reasons.  Compliance via the Comensura route was currently 56%, however, not all employment and recruitment agencies wished to work with Comensura owing to the associated low profit margins.  This was the first version of the report to divide spend into the categories of revenue and capital costs and it indicated decreasing spend in relation to revenue expenditure whilst capital spend was linked to capital projects monitored by the Finance team.


During the ensuing discussion a number of questions were asked and clarifications offered as follows:


·                In addition to consultants providing specialist services, agency workers were required to fill recruitment gaps and further information detailing these gaps would be gathered as part of the Financial Recovery Plan work and provided later in the year.  In this connection, attention was drawn to Table 2 in the report which provided some commentary and explanation in respect of the Housing Revenue Account service delivery model including some detail surrounding recruitment gaps.  Also, Comensura provided the Council with management data giving reasons for onboarding agency staff which could possibly be circulated.  Councillors were assured that they were at liberty to pose detailed questions to officers and Lead Councillors. 

·                It was emphasised that there was a need for consultants offering particular expertise which the Council did not have a long term need to retain in house.  This need also applied to obtaining agency workers to staff services such as waste collections in accordance with the associated business model to avoid over staffing to cover absences.


·                The importance of improving the capability and maturity of financial aspects of the Council to facilitate the Finance section’s business partnering with each of the other services to improve financial controls relating to staffing was highlighted.


·                In terms of capitalising the cost of spend in relation to consultants supporting capital projects, the Committee was advised that there was a requirement for the Council to comply with CIPFA’s Prudential Code for Capital Finance in Local Authorities.  This Code prevented the capitalising of spend in situations where consultants were working across a range of projects.  A judgment in this regard would be made at the year end and be audited.


·                There was an internal process where any off-contract spend in respect of an agency worker that was not paid via Comensura would be submitted to the Corporate Procurement Board for approval as an exception requiring evidence that the service area had consulted Comensura without success.  As recruitment agencies tended to specialise in niches of the market, Comensura was not able to onboard every agency and occasionally separate contracts with other agencies were negotiated to secure placements.


RESOLVED: (I) That the spend position for 2022/23 be noted;


(II) That an update in respect of this report, including the breakdown between revenue and capital spend, be received in six months’ time; and


(III) That further detailed analysis and reporting, providing details of reasons for engaging consultants on a service and project level alongside the Financial Recovery Plan, will follow.


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