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