Consultants Newton Europe have been called in to design and implement plans for the “transformation” of adult social care services in the county, as cash-strapped County Hall strives to save £65m over the next two years.
Council leader Jennifer Mein gave approval for the contract to be awarded as a ‘key decision’ and says the move will deliver “positive results”.
However, a furious County Coun Geoff Driver, leader of the council’s opposition Conservative group, has condemned the decision and is demanding to know why it was taken without a full debate.
In a letter to Coun Mein, Coun Driver said: “I am sure I will not be alone in being absolutely amazed that, in the present financial circumstances, you think it is appropriate to spend £6.6m on hiring consultants to do, essentially, what the council officers are employed to do.”
He continued: “It is beyond incredible that you would even consider spending such a sum on external consultants while at the same time making staff redundant and cutting services to some of the most vulnerable people in Lancashire.”
Earlier this year, the council employed Newtons to carry out some initial work to identify possible savings.
Coun Driver said the £6.6m would represent almost 29 per cent of “the bottom end of the range of savings previously identified” and was critical that, with just one tender in, the contract had been awarded to the same firm initially hired to draw up transformation proposals.
But Coun Mein today defended her decision, saying: “This project will become the single biggest contributor to the council’s savings programme, reducing costs in adult social care services by an estimated £36m per year while improving services for the vulnerable people we support.
“To put the investment into perspective, the cost is equivalent to 10 weeks’ worth of savings out of the £360m the project should allow the council to save over 10 years.
“It is a huge undertaking and we are working with a contractor because we need more people and specific expertise on a temporary basis to make it a success.
“It will ultimately enable our social care teams to work much more efficiently and give people the right level of support at the right time.
“Similar projects have proven to work very effectively elsewhere in the country and we are confident it is a good deal for Lancashire at a time, when the council has no choice but to find new ways to deliver substantial savings.”
She added: “The all-party executive scrutiny committee received and debated a detailed report about this proposal before it was agreed and the whole process followed the council’s usual procurement rules.
“The council can’t determine how many proposals it receives when it runs a tender process but it can and must ensure contracts are awarded to service providers who are up to the job.
“I’m very confident that’s what we have done and I’m looking forward to the project delivering positive results for the people of Lancashire.”
No-one from Newton was available to comment.
The matter will be discussed at a full council meeting today at 1.30pm.
The council is considering a number of measures to make £262m of savings by 2020, including closing libraries and museums, selling off council buildings and shedding jobs.