13 May 2018

Mayor defends continued use of consultants

7:33 am on 13 May 2018

New Plymouth District Council continues to spend millions of dollars on consultants despite its mayor questioning the practice during his 2016 election campaign.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mayor Neil Holdom took then-chief executive Barbara McKerrow to task for the $4.7 million the council spent on consultants in the March 2016 financial year.

Figures released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show the council has spent $4.2 million on outside consultants - not including legal fees since Mr Holdom was elected in October 2016.

Mr Holdom said he was happy the figure was tracking down and that consultants were now only being used when there was no in-house expertise.

"You're always going to need to bring in external consultants for things we don't do day to day, business as usual.

"I mean if we want to design a bridge, when was the last time New Plymouth District Council put a bridge in? So, yep, you bring someone in."

New Plymouth District Council spending on consultants since October 2016:

  • $1.5 million Opus - for professional services, infrastructure contracts
  • $450,000 Taranaki Regional Council - for water and compliance consultancy
  • $250,000 BTW Surveyors - for infrastructure / engineering consultancy
  • $230,000 Worley Parsons - for health and safety framework
  • $80,000 SGL Consulting - for Aquatic Centre redevelopment study

Mr Holdom said he campaigned against the use of consultants to provide core council services.

"I didn't think that was appropriate and what we've done is boosted up our infrastructure team and some of our project management capability to deliver that work in house and that's generating benefits in terms of value for ratepayers."

The breakdown of payments however includes areas where in-house expertise was available at council such as marketing and communications, parks and building consents inspections.

Mr Holdom said he had focused on the big numbers and they were improving.

"At a high level the costs being expended on consultants have come down significantly and that reflects my commitment to the ratepayers prior to the election."

New Plymouth District Council's spend on outside consultants for the year ended March 2018 was $2.2m. By comparison Whanganui District Council spent $1.5m over the same period.

Councillor Murray Chong said while the figure was coming down, too many council managers where hiding behind consultant reports rather than being accountable for their own decisions.

"We pay these managers a lot of money to be accountable for their decisions so they need to be accountable rather than paying outside consultants to say they've done a good job as well."

Murry Chong

Councillor Murry Chong Photo: Glenn Jeffrey

Mr Chong said the mayor was trying to make a difference.

"The problem is it's a big ship and there's a big culture inside the council, and I just feel they are wanting to use consultants to cover themselves to be able to say 'we've got other opinions'."