Somerset

Somerset County Council defends £800-a-day consultant

Somerset County Council has defended its decision to hire a consultant at a cost of £800 a day.

Lesley Ottery has been hired as a "business improvement director" for six months.

The Conservative-led authority says taxpayers' money will be saved as Mrs Ottery will look to see where savings can be made in the council's budget.

But Liberal Democrat councillor Alan Paul said the decision was "disgraceful".

The authority, which is cutting £34m from its budget, will lose a quarter of its staff by closing 1,500 posts over three years and cutting its social care budget.

Councillors have also decided to shut 18 youth centres, 11 libraries, four recycling centres and agreed to halve the money for bus subsidies.

'Appalling cuts'

Mr Paul said: "I think it is disgraceful that when ordinary residents are now beginning to feel these cuts biting, why are we now employing somebody at this amount of money of £800 a day, to do something that members know absolutely nothing about?

"It's not even a decision which has gone through any members.

"None of us even know what the job description is or what this person is doing.

"Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and imagine this person can save millions of pounds - why not do that before these appalling cuts were put in place?

"What on earth is this person going to do?"

'Unique skills'

Councillor David Huxtable, Conservative cabinet member for resources, said: "We are trying to change the size of our organisation, we are reducing the size of our organisation, we're probably going to have to put more of our business out to private works to try and get better value for money for the ratepayer.

"Lesley has skills both in the private sector and in the public sector which makes her pretty much unique.

"I have to say it's an awful lot cheaper than perhaps hiring a corporate director, having a situation where you've got to pay higher recruitment fees, they perhaps have six months to get their feet under the table and to get a feel of the organisation.

"And then, who knows, six months later we might find they are not required."

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