#65: Consultants, eh? Who’d have ’em?

Article first appeared in the Highley Forum, March 2020 edition.

County Councillor’s Report

£130,000 + £380,000 = £510,000

Nice work if you can get it. Bit late for me to scramble onto the consultancy bandwagon, though, even with an Upper Second Honours degree in Business Studies I’ve spent too long in the real world to convince potential clients that I’m the right person to tell them what they want to hear rather than the truth.

A lifetime ago, after graduating, I looked into going into business consultancy with an ex-copper friend, Ron, who I’d been at college with and the name we decided on was ‘NBS Consultancy’, the first initial standing for ‘No’ . But Ron’s circumstances changed and the idea was dropped, although I did do two and a half years freelance work for various local and central government agencies, but soon tired of finding myself sitting on the opposite side of some executive’s desk, dying to tell him (women execs were usually more switched on) that he was actually the problem he’d called me in to try and find!

As far as the recent furore over Shropshire Council’s employing consultants at the £510,000 cost given at the head of this article (£130K to advise on “solutions” to our highways issues and £380K to advise on the refurbishment of Shirehall), what angered me was that within the Council we had people who were more than able to tell anyone who asked what the problems were and what needed to be done to put them right.

In response to the Chief Executive’s email to all Elected Members telling us of his unilateral decision to appoint a highways consultant, I wrote back…

This is some kind of joke, right?

Everything’s falling apart so “we” employ another consultant when we’ve got all the expertise we need in-house and have done since the district and county councils were operating prior to going unitary, expertise that has the detailed LOCAL knowledge that informs the work programme of the efficient highways department we WOULD have had if only officers had been allowed to do the job they’ve trained to do, if only they were given the resources they so desperately need to do the job they’re professionally qualified to do!

Let the people we’ve got do their job and give them the resources they need to do it. It really is that simple.

Angry? Me? It’s gone beyond angry, especially given that five years ago, in February 2014 – yes 2014 – I asked this question of the highways portfolio holder at Full Council…

Will the Portfolio Holder for Highways admit that they have lost the battle with potholes in South East Shropshire? In the event that they still cling to the delusion that they are in fact still in control of roads in my part of the county, would they point to the evidence to support that claim.

Claire Wild, Portfolio Holder for Highways and Transport, replied: Shropshire Council has not lost the battle with potholes in South East Shropshire.

She went on to list a number of major jobs that were programmed for Highley (including the complete resurfacing of High Street), NONE of which were ever started, so if her argument was open to challenge back then, her successor has even more of a challenge to contend with because we’ve had five years of a crumbling highways network getting even further beyond hope of being salvaged by anyone, let alone a consultant at the going rate of £1,000 a day for six months.

Too much and too late anyway.

Dave Tremellen

(The very) Independent Member for Highley Ward of Shropshire Council.