Consultants paid £400,000 to advise on future of Assembly Rooms

This post first appeared on Derby Telegraph. Read the original article.

A firm of consultants has been paid £400,000 of taxpayers' money to advise the city council on what to do with the fire-damaged Assembly Rooms.

The payment was part of more than £1 million given to Cushman and Wakefield over the past two years for "strategic property advice", a Freedom of Information request by the Derby Telegraph has revealed.

And it was just part of a £4.5 million bill for a variety of consultants used by the local authority since April 2014.

The news comes as the council says it needs to save millions in the wake of cuts to its funding from the Government.

Cushman and Wakefield, based in Birmingham, is the company brought in to provide the property advice. As well as the Assembly Rooms work, it has also been involved in:

  • Feasibility work for the regeneration of the Becketwell area, for which the company received £77,000
  • Advice on property affected by the council’s city centre masterplan - £38,000
  • Marketing Middleton House in St Mary’s Gate - £57,700
  • Marketing and disposal of Derby Cattle Market - £3,700

The second highest figure was for “ad hoc costs”, which covered general strategic property advice on minor projects and attendance at meetings. This cost £188,500.

The near-£770,000 total that the property advice cost includes payments to subcontractors employed by Cushman and Wakefield.

Middleton House is a Grade 2-listed building in the heart of Derby's Cathedral Quarter

Middleton House is a Grade 2-listed building in the heart of Derby's Cathedral Quarter

In addition, a further £252,000 was paid to Cushman and Wakefield after it was commissioned to “do work” to support the council’s asset valuation programme.

This had previously been done inadequately in-house, leading to a delay in signing off both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 council accounts.

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The figures are contained in a Freedom of information request to Derby City Council asking for the amount of money paid to the company and how it is broken down into different contracts.

In addition, the Derby Telegraph also asked for a breakdown of how much has been spent on employing consultancy companies in the past three years.

Consultants have been involved in a variety of Derby projects including a council staff fair pay review, proposed ice rink in Duckworth Square and a new performance venue for the Market Place

In 2014-15, the council paid out £1,453,507.10 – excluding Cushman & Wakefield - the biggest single amount was £993,249 to Hay Group Management Ltd, which advised the council on a pay review.

It followed work done initially by consultants Aquarius - who were paid £33,162.04 in 2014-15. That company's work was taken over by Hay at the council's request.

Hay Group received an even larger payment in 2015-16 when figures show the council paid out £1,748,750.50 – out of a total of £1,967,304.90 for the year, excluding payments to Cushman and Wakefield.

The outcome of the fair pay settlement, on which work originally started over a decade ago, resulted in almost 12 months of strikes by members of Unison because school support staff stood to lose substantial sums of money as a result. The issue has still not been concluded and Unison has been balloting its members on further strike action.

In 2016-17, council payments to consultants were much lower at £116,930, mainly for advice on treasury management, a transport improvement scheme and the legal position surrounding the equal pay claim strategy.

Duckworth Square has been earmarked for a £10m ice-rink by land owners Derby City Council

Duckworth Square has been earmarked for a £10m ice rink

Regarding the payments to Cushman and Wakefield and its contract with the company, a Derby City Council spokesman said: “In 2015, the council identified a requirement for the provision of strategic property advice to support the regeneration and disposal of various council sites including sites such as Becketwell, Middleton House and Allestree Hall.

"Consequently Cushman and Wakefield, following the completion of a procurement exercise, were appointed in November 2015. The contract is for three years with a provision to extend for a further year. The council will undertake a new procurement exercise as and when the contract is up for renewal.

John Cox, 81, with his wife Diana, 80, visited the public consultation on the Assembly Rooms replacement venue at St Peter's Church, Derby

John Cox, 81, with his wife Diana, 80, visited the public consultation on the Assembly Rooms replacement venue at St Peter's Church, Derby

“A commission for work is issued to Cushman and Wakefield for every project we require them to be involved in. This document sets out the work that they need to undertake. As part of this process a fee is agreed with Cushman and Wakefield and this is subsequently signed off by the relevant project budget holder. No retainer is paid.

“From time to time, Cushman and Wakefield provide non project specific ad-hoc advice. Any costs associated with the provision of this advice are agreed by the relevant budget holder in advance.”

Public money watchdog the Taxpayers’ Alliance thinks that paying outside professionals can be a good way of saving taxpayers’ money because the private sector is often much better at delivering value.

But chief executive John O'Connell said: "The cost in this instance seems very high, so there should be transparency about how well that money is being used. The council should also consider whether these expensive consultants were necessary in the first place.”

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