Consultancy with links to Northamptonshire council's chief commissioner can bid for multi-million pound contract

Lead commissioner Tony McArdle is a senior advisor at Newton Europe.
Lead commissioner Tony McArdle is a senior advisor at Newton Europe.

A management consultancy with links to Northamptonshire County Council’s chief commissioner is allowed to tender for a multi-million-pound contract being offered by the authority.

Newton Europe was paid £435,000 this summer for a 12-week piece of work to investigate how the authority can make savings in its stretched adult social care department.

The implementation of the work – which is being offered on a risk and reward basis – and could net the successful contractor up to £7m, is now going out to tender and Newton Europe is eligible to bid.

Lead commissioner Tony McArdle, who was sent into NCC by central government last May to turn it around after its financial implosion, is a senior advisor at the Oxford-based firm.

The council has said the commissioner has always left a meeting when there has been discussion of Newton Europe’s work and has not been paid by Newton Europe for any work involving Northamptonshire.

Speaking at the council’s cabinet meeting earlier this month (Oct 8) director of adult social care Anna Earnshaw said all contract bidders would have access to the data compiled by Newton Europe earlier this summer and that the organisation was free to bid to win the contract.

She said as part of the work in-house staff would receive training by the bought-in consultants so the expertise of making savings in adult social care would pass onto the council’s employees.

Chair of the scrutiny committee Labour Cllr Mick Scrimshaw said the proposal would be looked at in detail later this month and cabinet member for adult social care Cllr Ian Morris said a full briefing would be given to members soon.

The authority is estimating the consultancy work could save the authority £25m in its adult social care department. The consultants fees directly relate to the level of savings they can achieve.

The recommendation put to the cabinet was that Anna Earnshaw, in consultation with Cllr Morris, undertake the procurement of the contract, negotiate it and award it without cabinet approval.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Chris Stanbra questioned the arrangement and said the decisions should be taken by the cabinet in public.

In response council leader Cllr Matt Golby said to make sure the council was being open and transparent in awarding the contract it would come back to the cabinet.

The authority is having to make savings across all departments and is currently predicting a £4.4m overspend this financial year.