Work­ers’ plea for jobs as con­sul­tants’ bill tops £1m

The Oban Times - - Front Page - LOUISE GLEN lglen@oban­

WORK­ERS at Argyll and Bute Coun­cil say ‘it feels like’ the coun­cil has put the town cen­tre re­gen­er­a­tion ahead of jobs.

Claim­ing the ‘sever­est cuts are yet to hit’, the staff want more jobs to be found in-house, and less money to be spent on con­sul­tants.

In records on Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment web­site Spot­light on Spend, the lo­cal au­thor­ity paid out £1.256 mil­lion on con­sul­tants in the year to March 2015.

More than £ 800,000 of Argyll and Bute fund­ing has been spent on ex­ter­nal con­sul­tants since 2009 in or­der to de­liver the CHORD project in Oban town cen­tre. Work­ers ap­proached The Oban Times af­ter in­ter­nal con­sul­ta­tions led them to be­lieve even more jobs will be cut in 2017. They want the coun­cil to con­sider train­ing staff to re­source con­sul­ta­tions in­stead of spend­ing mil­lions with com­pa­nies not based in Argyll.

Coun­cil­lor Roddy McCuish, area chair­man, said that for the first time in years peo­ple in Oban were ‘ex­cited about the fu­ture’. He said the money spent on con­sul­tants was in line with cash spent else­where in the coun­try.

A Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest made by The Oban Times, in re­sponse to the work­ers’ plea found that to date £ 814, 852 has been spent on con­sul­tants on the CHORD project.

A fur­ther ma­rina project is cur­rently be­ing as­sessed by con­sul­tants and is ex­pected to be fi­nalised af­ter a num­ber of other con­sul­ta­tions have taken place, in­clud­ing a wave study and seabed anal­y­sis.

These con­sul­ta­tions are not yet in fig­ures given to The Oban

Times as they have still to be com­pleted. Pre­vi­ous marine con­sul­ta­tions have cost up­wards of £150,000.

Out­side con­sul­tants are em­ployed by the coun­cil as it does not have marine and town­cen­tre en­gi­neers on staff. The work­ers want to see that change.

The group of five work­ers, who did not want to be named for per­sonal rea­sons, told The Oban

Times: ‘We un­der­stand that the coun­cil wants to de­velop new projects, but too much of our coun­cil’s cash is not be­ing spent on peo­ple who live and work in the area.

‘We think ev­ery­one wants the same thing – that is, more well­paid jobs in Oban.

‘It feels like the coun­cil has put town cen­tre re­gen­er­a­tion ahead of our jobs.

‘We have so much more to give to the area. We think the coun­cil should set up a train­ing unit to re­de­ploy staff into sup­port ser­vices for con­sul­tancy.

‘We don’t think that the in­vest­ment in Oban will ma­te­ri­alise in jobs that are equiv­a­lent to the jobs we are los­ing.

‘The sever­est cuts to staffing are yet to come.’

Revealing the ex­tent spent on con­sul­tants, the lo­cal au­thor­ity’s Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer said: ‘I would, firstly, com­ment that the coun­cil op­er­ates the stan­dard pub­lic sec­tor model for its cap­i­tal projects and com­mis­sions spe­cial­ist ex­ter­nal ser­vices as and when re­quired, en­sur­ing best value for the pub­lic purse.’

The Oban Times asked whether the coun­cil had pre­pared eco­nomic im­pact sur­veys prior to the work in the town cen­tre be­ing un­der­taken.

A spokesman for Argyll and Bute Coun­cil said it was too early to make an as­sess­ment of the eco­nomic ben­e­fit of the CHORD pro­gramme.

‘At this stage, with the re­gen­er­a­tion pro­gramme still pro­gress­ing, it is too early to give a de­fin­i­tive fig­ure.

‘You carry out an eco­nomic im­pact as­sess­ment a min­i­mum of a year, but gen­er­ally two to three years, af­ter the pro­gramme is fin­ished, to al­low suf­fi­cient time for the ben­e­fits to emerge.’

Coun­cil­lor McCuish, Lorn and Is­lands area chair­man, said: ‘There is al­ready anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of in­creased foot­fall in the town and in­creased eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

‘Peo­ple in Oban are ex­cited about the fu­ture for the first time in years.

‘Our var­i­ous re­gen­er­a­tion projects are aimed at im­prov­ing Oban.

‘These are ex­cit­ing times for the town with pub­lic realm de­vel­op­ments on­site and the tran­sit berthing fa­cil­ity and vis­i­tor cen­tre in the pipe­line.

‘The town will see a real boost from these projects through in­creased con­fi­dence in the town’s fu­ture, which is key in cre­at­ing new job op­por­tu­ni­ties, new busi­nesses and en­cour­ag­ing new peo­ple to move into the area.’

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