It’s that time of year when everyone is gearing up for elections. When I say everyone what I really mean is candidates for the Town and District councils and the general election. So it came as no surprise last Wednesday when a Conservative Councillor read out a list of questions that really could have been asked at any point in the past four years (why save them up?).
One question however gave us a foretaste of the likely criticism we will face: “How much money has Frome Town Council spent on consultants? Ah consultants, that dread word that speaks of wasteful spending! But wait a minute, let’s pick this apart and identify who these consultants are and why have they been hired? First off Frome Town Council is a tiny public body with a staff of around 11 people including outdoor services and 2 apprentices. We’re really lucky to have extremely skilled, competent and enthusiastic staff, we’re also really lucky to have councillors who bring a range of skills, expertise and experience to their roles which we draw on wherever possible.
However there are specific projects that require specific skills and it would be remiss (and in some cases illegal) for us not to use professional advice. Let’s take for example the purchasing of the Town Hall from the County Council. In order to establish a fair price and to realistically begin to cost the project it was necessary to employ a surveyor to assess the condition of the building. I guess you could say that the surveyor is one of the consultants we’ve employed.
Now the Neighbourhood Plan (for which we received funding from central government). We have observed Neighbourhood Plans in other towns which failed to grasp the challenges their plan would face and were almost immediately thrown out by the Planning Inspectorate. I’d call that a huge waste of money and time. Instead Frome Town Council hired a planning professional to help ensure that our plan is robust enough to withstand rapacious developers trying to pull a fast one. I guess you could call the planning professional another consultant.
My last example is the consultant we pay to help community groups find funding. This consultant is paid £11K per year and has brought in over £140K to Frome. To me that looks like a really good investment and is another reason why Frome is doing so much better than many of its neighbouring towns.
So the next time you hear someone diss the Frome Town Council for hiring consultants please remember that it’s not a dirty word.