Councils hit back over waste claims

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SPENDING money on experts for a schools building project was not wasting money, claim councils in the region.

Sunderland City Council, along with others across the North, shelled out hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultations for the Building Schools for Futures (BSF) project before the Government pulled the plug on it.

Now, the Conservatives are saying figures show local authorities spent huge sums on architects, lawyers and consultants for the scheme.

They claim Durham County Council’s total non-building costs exceeded £5.7million, Sunderland spent more than £1million on accountants, while South Tyneside spent £639,000 on the same.

Charlotte Leslie, who sits on the education select committee, said BSF was an example of wasteful spending, which lined the pockets of contractors.

But, local authorities, which were devastated by the loss of BSF which aimed to transformeducation in the region, say they had to spend the money.

David Theobald, Durham County Council’s project director, said BSF had a complex procurement process requiring a specific level of spending on non-building costs.

He said: “Meeting these costs was a necessary requirement in order to take part in the programme and secure the very substantial capital funding that was made available for our schools.

“We have done this as efficiently as possible and been completely open about the financial commitment we have had to make.”

Coun Pat Smith, portfolio holder for children and learning city, Sunderland City Council, said: “The first wave of BSF work in Sunderland saw more than £120million invested in eight city schools to provide state-of-the-art facilities and new technologies.

“The new buildings were procured through Partnerships for Schools which required councils to use external consultancy to provide certain services.

“These costs reflect this requirement in terms of project management support, IT procurement and contract evaluation and financial advice and support to get to contract close. Overall, the use of external consultancy support was kept to a minimum.”

Coun Jim Foreman, South Tyneside Council’s lead member for children, young people and families, said the authority’s use of consultants resulted in the authority securing £173million of investment in its schools.

A recent independent report found that BSF was “not fit for purpose” and the public sector had not got the value it should have done.

@SunEchoSchools