An external consultancy hired by Moray Council to help with a savings drive has been criticised as a possible waste of much-needed money.
The cash-strapped local authority needs to trim £12 million from its budget, and has recruited the English outfit iESE to oversee a massive cost-cutting operation.
The council has refused to disclose the sum it will pay the group, deeming it “commercially sensitive”, but it has been described as “not a small amount”.
Officials from iESE will spend eight weeks trawling through the books in order to find ways to “modernise and improve” services.
However, the council’s opposition Conservative group says the organisation has “limited experience” of working in Scotland and could lack the knowledge to achieve the savings required.
Tory group leader, Tim Eagle, said: “It’s not a small amount of money to bring this English company in.
“The cost of hiring iESE has been deemed confidential but we were given a paper which said they had limited experience in Scotland and even less exposure to education services – where savings need to be made.
“Education is one of our biggest challenges in Moray and the Conservative group and I are in utter shock that this has been agreed.” iESE, which is based in Canterbury, claims to have helped save a total of £1 billion of public money since it was formed in 2004.
And its chief executive, Andrew Larner, last night highlighted the organisation’s track record of “transforming” financially struggling councils.
He said: “iESE is a not-for-profit social enterprise dedicated to improving local public services and reducing their cost.
“We have generated more than £1 billion of savings whilst improving services.
“Every authority could be said to have ‘limited experience’, in that they only know the things that they have tried, but by using iESE they harness the experience of a network of public bodies which stretches throughout the UK.
“Our innovative approaches have totally transformed local public services.”
The Tory group also bemoaned the fact that it had similar proposals to recruit outside help blocked by the now-ruling SNP group when its members formed part of the previous administration.
Moray Council convener, Shona Morrison, insisted the project with the not-for-profit organisation is intended to deliver “best value” for residents.
Mrs Morrison said: “iESE has a considerable track record in helping councils identify savings and it’s clear we need to do more to balance the budget in February next year.
“Their work will support transformation from a customer’s perspective, review our processes and remove parts which are of no value to our customers.”
The consultants will identify opportunities for saving money with the final decision resting with the council about whether to pursue them.
Moray Council is facing a £12.4 million black hole in its budget for next year and could go bankrupt unless enough savings can be made.
Mrs Morrison added: “All of this only seeks to improve the services we offer in Moray and offer best value for money to taxpayers.”
The council has declined to reveal the cost of the exercise, describing the figure as “commercially sensitive” while negotiations are ongoing – but stressed it would be “more modest than a traditional consultancy”.