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There audible were gasps of shock in the council chamber last night (Monday) as the borough's shadow finance boss revealed Dudley Council has spent £1.3million pounds on consultancy fees in the last year.

In his first budget as cabinet member for finance and legal, Councillor Steve Clark revealed the eye-popping figure during an epic five-hour meeting at Dudley Council where the Tories and UKIP blocked a bid by Labour to hike up the council tax by 4.99 per cent.

He told the meeting the amount spent on consultants adds up to nearly £6million over the last four years and he told the Labour group: "You wouldn't have had to consider fortnightly rubbish collections and charging for green waste if you hadn't spent that money on consultancy."

He accused the council of commissioning "outside consultants from leafy Surrey to tell us where we needed to save money in Dudley" to do the "job we are already paying our officers for".

Cllr Clark said £200,000 had been spent on enlisting private consultants to suggest where savings could be found during the process of setting the budget for 2017/18 and he asked the Labour group: "Do you not trust your senior officers to do the same job - who you're paying over £1.5million to make those crucial decisions?"

He urged the council in the future to instead look at procurement, recruitment and consultancy to make savings, and he added: "My challenge to you over the next financial year is not to squeeze the terms and conditions of the outstanding employees of Dudley or close museums, or get rid of lollipop ladies. But deliver a service to the people of Dudley that enhances frontline services, while making savings from areas that can easily be trimmed."

Labour councillor Pete Lowe, leader of the authority, accused him of trying to score party political points with his speech and seeking "cheap headlines" and he said: "I've got no problem spending X amounts on consultants providing it achieves X amounts in savings."

Councillor Paul Brothwood, Dudley's UKIP group leader, also launched a scathing attack on the council's top directors for enlisting private firms to identify efficiencies and he said: "If the chief executive and corporate board cannot find the necessary savings then they should be relieved of their duties".

After agreeing to back the Conservatives on their bid for a 3.99 council tax rise, instead of a five pent hike, Cllr Brothwood also put forward an amendment recommending "the chief executive be instructed to source a private company that would be targeted to deliver savings of five per cent from procurement over the next three years and would be paid on results".

Labour councillor John Martin, cabinet member for transformation and performance, had called for chief executive Sarah Norman to identify savings in the first instance but UKIP and the Conservatives voted for a private company to be enlisted to do the job instead - and be paid on results only.

Cllr Brothwood said: "We believe spending is out of control and the council does not have the capability to resolve this long running issue."

Councillor Les Jones, a former Tory leader of the authority, agreed it might be worth paying "a little bit more" for consultants compensated on outcomes only in order to get results.

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