CONCERNS have been raised about City Hall's reliance on consultants after it emerged that Cork City Council spent more than €11 million on external expertise from 2014 to 2017.
The figures, released to former Lord Mayor Cllr Chris O'Leary, include details of significant spends on landmark projects such as the events centre and the bid for a national diaspora centre, as well as massive investments in city roads, housing and parks projects.
The report shows that roads and housing have seen the biggest spend on consultants due to their important role in major capital works in the city.
It states that some €411,000 was spent on project work relating to the Marina Park project since 2014, while a further €220,000 was spent on consultancy relating to the design of the Harley Street bridge project.
€265,000 was spent on design and other project works regarding the City Centre Movement Strategy, while some €553,000 has been spent on consultation surrounding the controversial events centre project.
In addition to these standout projects, there has also been a significant spend on consultancy regarding day-to-day City Council functions, such as housing maintenance and upgrades.
Mr O'Leary said that the local authority has been left with no other option but to outsource work due to staff shortages and hiring embargos over the last decade. He questioned the logic of the strategy and said that it is impacting local authorities all over the country.
Among the standout figures are the use of €640,000 on consultation regarding the void housing programme, as well as more than €50,000 on roof repairs. Mr O'Leary said these are just the tip of the iceberg.
He said Sinn Féin aims to use the data in preparing its submission for City Hall's 2019 budget.
The cash-strapped council has struggled to pass a number of budgets in recent years, cutting basic services to find funds.
Mr O'Leary said, "We often find ourselves in the weeks leading up to the budget arguing over €100,000 or less and which basic services we cut to pass a budget. When these figures are laid bare and we see where this money is going, it certainly begs some questions.
"Basic functions, like roof repairs and maintenance, have had to be outsourced because of staff shortages and government hiring embargos. That isn't right. It has to be cheaper for us to directly employ people to this work."
Mr O'Leary described the spend as 'stark.'
"In previous years, we had CE schemes and apprenticeship schemes. These allowed people to get the experience they otherwise may not have been able to get and, in many cases, trained people up to take on full-time positions in Cork City Council. It was a huge opportunity for people who may not have always had such an opportunity."
The former Lord Mayor said that the spend raises questions about the impact of staff cuts and hiring embargos in recent years.
"I am not suggesting for one second that we do all this work ourselves. Many of these projects are important and they are worthwhile but there is a huge amount of work in this document that used be carried out directly by City Council," Mr O'Leary said.
"We no longer have the fallback staff of engineers, architects, plasterers and so on which we used to have and they are very clearly needed.
"We had to bring in consultants to oversee repairs in St Anthony's Park and Spring Lane; those are basic functions that we should be looking after. We are paying for inspectors, we are paying for basic maintenance."
City Hall finance officials have defended the spend.
In a response to Mr O'Leary's query, a report from the city's finance director noted that the total spend of €11,237,933 was just over 1% of the local authority's total spend in the period of 2014 to 2017.
"In the corresponding period, Cork City Council spent a sum of €858 million. The total spend on consultants in the period equates to 1.3% of the total City Council spend.
"I am entirely satisfied that in the context of the City Council's functions and activities, it is reasonable that specialist skills and services would be contracted in by the City Council as and when required."
City Hall also stressed that all appropriate guidelines were followed in selecting and awarding contracts.
"In line with Planned Procurement approach and guidelines, Cork City Council has put in place controls to ensure that there is a genuine need to engage external consultants prior to the award of any contract. As part of these controls, the Director signs off that they have complied with Procurement guidelines and EU legislation."