N. Ireland Politics

Councils spend £23m on consultants

Northern Ireland's local councils have spent over £23m on consultants fees over the past three financial years.

The figures were released in response to an Assembly question from the SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly and show significant differences in the spending patterns of the 26 local authorities.

Belfast council had the biggest bill for consultancy fees, it spent more than £7m over the past three years.

It was followed by Newtownabbey which spent more than £3m in the same period.

Castlereagh Council's total bill came to less than £48,000.

The figures were released to the SDLP's Dolores Kelly, who said ratepayers would be shocked by the costs run up by some councils.

"We have officers in council's who receive fairly good remuneration in high paid jobs so it does call into question whether we have the right people in the right place," she said.

"I understand that sometimes councils do require the services of consultants but I do believe the figures demand some answers."

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Local Government Association said it often works out cheaper for local councils to hire external experts than to retain specialist services in-house.

Economist John Simpson said local government is subject to a set of controls.

"No proposals to employ consultants will go through without it having been put on the table.

"It will have to be approved and it's all subject to vetting by the local government auditor when it is all done and dusted.

He said there are some occassions when local councils may need to pay consultants.

"Do they have the expertise for the particular question called up?

"If a council is re-organising a complete service, a one off exercise, then the chances are they won't have the expertise," he added.

"Where you don't have the expertise, you need to bring it in.

"If you have the expertise and you are not using it properly, then that's criticism," he said.