Shropshire Star

Shropshire Council allocates up to £6.2m to consultancy firm as it targets budget savings

Shropshire Council plans to allocate up to £6.2m to an external consultancy firm as it seeks to identify savings in next year’s budget.

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Photo: Mike Sheridan/BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service

However the authority says its private-sector “transformation partner” must pay its way by achieving cost savings – and intends to cap its overall level of spending with the firm to 10 per cent of the authority’s £62m savings target for the next financial year.

Shropshire Council came under fire last year after announcing it had paid £3.3m to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to provide consultancy services in its bid to restructure services and reduce costs, but insisted they were a key component in delivering savings of around £40m for the authority in this year’s budget.

The authority’s medium-term financial strategy, which sets out broader fiscal objectives for Shropshire Council for the next five years, will be discussed alongside the budget for the coming financial year at this week’s full council meeting.

The document outlines that savings achieved by PwC must be greater than the cost of engaging with the firm.

Gwilym Butler, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member for finance said the expertise provided by PwC had been “key” to the authority delivering record levels of cost savings.

“They have supported seven substantial projects so far, which have helped achieve savings of over £40m in this financial year, more than we have ever made before. The expertise of an external partner with a track record of making sustainable, strategic improvements has been key to this success,” he said.

“These include a project to introduce new technology into our contact centre to answer simple queries more speedily, 24 hours a day and another project to remodel and enhance services that reduce the time people take to recover after being discharged from hospital.

“However, the demand and cost for our services has continued to grow and we now face an even bigger challenge, like councils all over the UK. Our rural geography and older than average population adds to this challenge and we now know that we must find £62m in the next financial year. ”

Councillor Butler said the council was facing “very difficult decisions” in its budget plans for next year.

“There is no room for error in our budget plans for 2024/25 and investing in the proven guidance of our transformation partners will help to ensure every tough decision we make is the right one to secure a financially sustainable future for Shropshire Council,” he added.

A report from the council’s Transformation Task and Finish Group also set to go before full council this week recommends that the council continues to develop its work with PwC by “tactically utilising their access to skills and knowledge that the council does not have in house, to help transform services.”

The report added that cost-savings projects were initially conceived by PWC, although Shropshire Council retained decision making authority over them.

PwC declined to respond, saying that it was unable to comment on work being delivered for its clients.

The report and budget proposals will be put forward to a full meeting of Shropshire Council on Thursday, February 29.