South East Wales

Council paid education consultants £500 a day

Vale of Glamorgan Council
Image caption The Vale of Glamorgan Council was threatened with legal action

The Vale of Glamorgan council has revealed it paid education consultants up to £500 a day.

The authority revealed the figure after Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood lodged an appeal following an earlier Freedom of Information request.

The council had previously revealed the figures but not the number of days worked by the consultants.

It has now emerged one of the consultants received £29,000 for 58.5 days work in 2009-10.

The council's chief executive John Maitland Evans admitted this was on top of £34,294 covering 68.5 days paid out in 2008-09.

The information commissioner ruled in May that the authority should release full details on the two consultants' costs following an investigation and a 25-page judgement by assistant commissioner Anne Jones.

The council refused to say how many days each of them was employed for and what each of them was paid.

Now the full disclosure has been welcomed by Ms Wood, who said it should not have been necessary for her to involve the information commissioner.

She said: "I hope that the council get the message loud and clear that the public has a right to know how it is spending money whether it is on consultancy services, as in this case, or other projects and services.

"I trust the Vale of Glamorgan council will, in future, fully embrace the Freedom of Information Act in an open and transparent manner and not try to avoid providing information.

"My original request was motivated by a public desire to have a complete and full picture of how public money was being spent and certainly not by a desire to find out people's bank details as was erroneously suggested by the authority."

The council said it did not withhold the cost of the consultants, and Ms Wood had been supplied with details of the costs and a breakdown of the work undertaken.

"The fees charged by the individual consultants were not released as the individuals did not give their consent to the release of the information - indeed one consultant felt that the release would breach their rights under data protection," said the council in a statement.

"The Vale of Glamorgan council aims to be transparent in its work and this is demonstrated by its plans to become the first council in Wales to publish details on its website of all purchases made by its services costing more than £500.

"The Freedom of Information Act has been in operation for five-and-a-half-years and, in that time, out of more than 1,500 requests received, only four decisions have been made against the council by the commissioner.

"Hardly the record of a council that tries 'to avoid giving information'."

The council said consultants were engaged to support the directorate of learning and development during a period when "three of the four heads of service posts within the directorate were vacant".

"The use of this part-time support proved to be excellent value for money, saving approximately £58,000 on salary costs," the council added.

In her judgement Anne Jones had said: "The council did not provide the commissioner with any firm arguments to support its view that the disclosure would be likely to prejudice the consultants' or the council's own interests.

"There is a strong public interest in transparency in relation to the use of public money and ensuring that public authorities are achieving the best price for work that it outsourced to external companies."

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