Haringey council “squandered” the equivalent of 700 social workers’ salaries on private consultants while overstretched staff failed to save Baby P, the Standard can reveal.
Sharon Shoesmith’s department for children spent £23.8 million on external advisers for the borough’s school renovation programme between 2005 and 2008.
The money – four times the recommended level – would have been enough to build one new school from scratch, or fund the salaries of 740 social workers for a year.
MPs condemned the “shocking” consultancy bill, which mounted during Ms Shoesmith’s tenure. At the same time, Baby Peter was suffering months of abuse from which he eventually died, despite being on Haringey’s at-risk register.
The figures led to fresh questions over Ms Shoesmith’s management of Haringey’s children’s services department and marked another blow for Gordon Brown’s flagship Building Schools for the Future programme.
Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said the consultancy bill – far higher than for other boroughs – was “shocking”.
“This looks like an unbelievable sum to be spent on consultants,” she said. “Haringey have got a lot of explaining to do as to where exactly that money has gone. It looks like they did not know what they were doing.
“We need to be sure that they haven’t simply squandered this money. We are desperately short of things like social workers and housing.
“If this happened on Sharon Shoesmith’s watch and is found to be gross incompetence with public money then we need to know what her role was,” she said.
Baby P, now known by his name, Peter Connelly, was abused and neglected at the home occupied by his mother, Tracey Connelly, 28, her boyfriend Steven Barker, 33, and Barker’s brother, Jason Owen. He was found dead in August 2007 after suffering injuries including a broken back. All three adults have been jailed over the case.
Social workers, police, doctors and health visitors saw Peter more than 60 times but failed to take him into care. The inquiry into his death found that extra money for social services on its own would not have saved him. But Haringey was told it must undergo a further investigation into whether it allocated enough resources to children’s services between 2005 and 2008.
Separate reports by Government inspectors found a shortage of social workers and “high vacancy rates” undermined child protection in the borough.
Ms Featherstone said Haringey’s consultancy bill raised questions over whether a borough council was competent enough to manage complicated building contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
Official advice states that councils should expect to spend about 3 per cent of the value of their secondary school rebuilding plans on all external consultants and internal staff costs.
Haringey spent more than 11 per cent of the value of its £214 million programme on outside consultancy alone, a total of £23,817,067.91 over the four-year period.
The payments included £9.6million to architects, £687,000 on “consultancy (general)”, £5million labelled “consultant”, £812,000 on “agency staff” and £42,000 on “planning consultancy”.
The figures were released to trade magazine PPP Bulletin under freedom of information laws. They showed that Haringey’s consultancy bill was far higher than any of the 15 other London boroughs that released information.
At least £100 million pounds has been spent or earmarked for procurement costs across the 16 councils – Waltham Forest, Southwark, Westminster, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Lewisham, Newham, Lambeth, Islington, Barking and Dagenham,Kensington and Chelsea, Ealing, Camden, Hillingdon and Hammersmith and Fulham.
The Prime Minister has promised to rebuild or renovate every secondary school in the country at an estimated cost of £55 billion. The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) plan has been hit by delays although 87 new schools are now open with six more opening in London this month.
A Haringey council spokeswoman claimed the £23.8million figure, which the borough itself provided in a file marked “BSF consultancy costs”, was “misleading”. She said the bill was paid from the Government’s school building grant, and was not diverted from other council services.
“£18million of that figure represents the overall costs of project design and development, such as architects, quantity surveyors, project managers and other professionals involved in a large-scale building project,” she said.
“Around £6million represents external BSF programme management costs over a five-year period. This is well within the expected consultancy costs for a programme of this size. Haringey’s BSF programme has been carefully, independently audited and is on track to deliver significant school modernisation on budget.”
A spokeswoman for Partnerships for Schools, the Government agency that runs the BSF programme, said: “It is important to not get confused between government capital investment and how much local authorities spend on their costs such as on direct staffing and external advisers.
“Councils should expect to spend around 3 per cent of the total value of their BSF scheme to ensure successful delivery, but it is not for us to dictate the precise amount that each authority should spend.”
Written with Tom Ross and first published in The London Evening Standard