Last night viewers of BBC2 documentary ‘Who’s spending our billions?’ heard Welsh councils were spending millions of pounds on management consultants to advise on cutting jobs and local public services. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was reported as receiving additional bonus payments tied to the number of people councils would eventually sack. To date the company was said to have been paid £5million in Wales.
Campaigning public services union, UNISON Cymru/Wales co-operated with the programme in some depth and has long complained that PwC is guilty of ‘milking the public purse’ at a time when spending on local services is already under great strain. It was on the union’s various Freedom of Information requests that much of the programme was based.
The programme focused on Ceredigion, Torfaen, Pembrokeshire and Powys. At Ceredigion, PwC’s contract is thought to be worth at least one million pounds. Although not featured last night, UNISON has discovered PwC was paid £750,000 by Wrexham County Borough Council and at least half a million pounds by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council last year to advise on making cuts.
Presenter Jacques Peretti was told by industry experts that PwC would typically use a template presentation to shock councillors with a dire picture of the council’s future and then suggest that only the consultant could offer them “salvation”. This pitch would hook the councillors and secure PwC a lucrative contract.
Dominic MacAskill, UNISON Cymru/Wales Head of Local Government said,
“Anyone watching last night will have been furious that a series of Welsh councils have been fooled by a basic PowerPoint presentation into showering a private company with taxpayers’ money. PwC promises unrealistic savings because it doesn’t care about critical public services being run down or ensuring that Ceredigion, Torfaen, Pembrokeshire, Powys, Wrexham and Merthyr Tydfil have vibrant communities with sustainable local jobs in future.
“It is a scandal that PwC has been awarded extremely lucrative contracts to tell councils how to save money by closing or privatising local services and sacking employees, including those working with vulnerable adults.
“The programme also showed a positive way forward for our councils and delivery of high quality public services with authorities, trades unions and staff working together to find solutions. Liverpool council took a decision to remove the city cleaning contract from a private company and take over services itself. This eliminated the £1million management fee the council had been paying and by involving the workforce, productivity rose steeply. This is something Welsh local authorities must urgently examine.”
In last night’s show, the leader of Ceredigion council refused to discuss the precise financial nature of their contract with PwC, pleading commercial sensitivity. The programme also poked fun at the inept PwC evaluation of additional pupil travel time in Powys when advising the council on shutting schools.