Cumbria

Cumbria County Council criticised over £700 a day PR fee

Cumbria County Council is facing criticism over its £700-a-day payment to a public relations expert.

Mark Fletcher-Brown will work in an advisory role two or three days a week for the next four to five weeks.

The authority, in which no political party has over-all control, is having to make budget savings of £80m over the next three years.

It said the appointment was less than the cost of a permanent post and would help reduce spending by up to £300,000.

Mr Fletcher-Brown runs a company called Reputation Counsel, which according to its website offers advice on subjects ranging from how to do interviews with local media, to how to cut jobs while keeping people on side.

One of the documents states that a local authority's "ability to manage local media will determine how people feel about the quality of the services".

'Absolutely ridiculous'

Conservative county councillor Gary Strong described the appointment as "a disgrace".

He said: "At a time when staff at the county council are losing their jobs and when the people I represent are losing their services, to pay someone this amount of money is absolutely ridiculous.

"I think this is more about hiding the bad news than delivering good news."

The council said the appointment was a short term post which could last six months.

It said in a statement: "Cumbria County Council is currently facing its biggest ever financial challenge and is therefore looking to significantly reduce spending on communications.

"The external expertise we have brought in will help us achieve a saving in the region of £200,000-£300,000, which will help protect front line services.

"The cost of the consultant is 50% less than the cost of a permanent post which was recently vacated and is therefore actually delivering a saving."

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