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Council spends more than £1 million on outside consultants in last financial year

28 Dec 2022 3 minute read
Torfaen picture by Jaggery (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Twm Owen, local democracy reporter

Torfaen Council spent more than £1 million on outside consultants in the past financial year – a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed.

The largest single sum paid out by Torfaen Council was £173,538 to a firm working on a project to use technology to improve social care.

The council has previously said how, in 2019, it was awarded £1.25m from the UK Government’s GovTech Catalyst challenge which intended to help develop technology to support the public sector.

During the 2021/22 financial year Torfaen spent more than half a million pounds as part of the project. Cardiff-based Spry Care, which received the largest single payment, and three other firms, Nquiringminds, Social Kemistri and CarefulAI, shared £578,340 between them.

The spending amounted to more than half of the £1,095,043m the borough spent on external consultants during the most recent financial year.

Though Spry Care received the largest single payment, and a total of £215,789, the biggest single recipient of taxpayers’ cash from the council was Nquiringminds which banked £340,132.

Artificial intelligence

Described as a British AI (artificial intelligence) firm based in Southampton it says it works on data sharing and analytics and across central government and the wider public sector as well as industrial manufacturing and agriculture.

In February 2021 Torfaen announced Nquiringminds and Spry Care would receive up to £500,000 from the Cabinet Office GovTech scheme.

Nquiringminds had proposed a system, CareAnalytics, intended to help care providers make “better long term and collaborative decisions” while also spotting trends “to ensure care is well planned, timely and effective”.

Spry Care was developing a home care procurement tool taking account of requirements such as journey times, carer preference, needs and how likely an agency would be to accept the care visit. The intention was to give the council a better understanding of the local care market place.

Cardiff-based Rockhaven Healthcare, which says it provides “improvement consultancy services” on care homes, home care and foster care to independent operators as well as local government and financial institutions was also paid by the council’s social care and housing department for guidance and support on its strategic social care budget setting.

It collected three payments totalling £26,250 of Torfaen taxpayers’ cash.

Other notable payments included £44,925 to London-based Ignite Consulting for advice on future investment at Cwmbran’s Greenmeadow farm. In October 2022 the council agreed a £1.7m investment in new attractions and facilities at the farm as it ended its subsidy, with the farm having to generate its own revenue.

Work on mapping for the Welsh Government’s 20 mile per hour speed limit project also cost the council £7,444 spent with Gaist Solutions.

The most payments were made to international consulting firm Capita which collected 19 payments plus a further 15 to its real estate and infrastructure division, the 34 total payments amounted to £152,159.

Highway inspections

All the payments were made by the economy and environment department and related to bridge or highway inspections. It was the department which made the largest amount of payments to outside consultants.

In Monmouthshire, during the 2021/22 financial year, the county council spent just £33,325.91 with external consultants all related to highways.

It spent a total of £24,225.91 with Capita’s real estate and infrastructure division, for design work related to road and bridge schemes, and £9,100 with Pace Safety Service mostly related to health and safety audits and accreditation for highways, which is required for its work with the South Wales Trunk Road Agency.

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