Consultancy with links to Northamptonshire's commissioner wins lucrative council contract

Tony McArdle is also a paid advisor to Newton Europe, as declared on the council's website.
Tony McArdle is also a paid advisor to Newton Europe, as declared on the council's website.

After being paid £435,000 to do some previous work for the council, Newton Europe has now won a contract which could net it up to £7m per year.

A firm with links to one of Northamptonshire’s government appointed commissioners has won a multi-million pound contract with the county council.

Newton Europe has been awarded a ‘risk and reward’ style contract to develop a new operating model for the council’s adult social care department and could earn it as much as £7m per year from the authority.

The appointment has raised some eyebrows among opposition councillors as Tony McArdle who has been on an £800 day rate since joining the council last May is also a paid advisor at the Newton Europe. The Conservative cabinet made the decision in private yesterday (Feb 11) and the news was then made public via a media release.

The Oxfordshire-based firm, which is delivering a similar service to Cornwall Council, has won the contract after previously paid £435,000 for a 12-week piece of work in which the idea for the risk and reward contract they won was suggested. It is understood that only one other company bid for the contract.

When questioned last October by the Local Democracy Reporting Service about the commissioner’s links with Newton Europe the council said he always left the room when Newton Europe’s work was discussed and was not paid by them in relation to any work related to the council.

A spokesman for the Northamptonshire Commissioners this morning (feb 12) said: “Tony McArdle has been very clear, open and transparent about his role for Newton Europe. This has been fully declared on his register of interests and rather than just leaving the room during discussions he has never been involved in any way around the company’s work in Northamptonshire.”

NCC is hoping to save as much as £15m a year from its adult social care budget by implementing the new model. Specifics of how the new model will work have not been made public.

Chair of the council’s scrutiny committee Labour Cllr Mick Scrimshaw said he was unsure whether there was a conflict of interest but hoped the councillors making the decision had looked into the matter in sufficient detail.

He said: “I just hope the cabinet were very wary of the potential issues and did go into them in some detail before making a decision.”

And Liberal Democrat leader Chris Stanbra said he thought the decision to award the contract should have been taken in public and the cabinet should have been as transparent as possible.

He said: “Scrutiny will be taking a close interest in what is being done, how much is being paid and when.”

Cabinet member for adult social care Councillor Ian Morris said: “Delivering the best possible outcomes for residents is our priority, but doing this in the face of rising demand and within our budget is a continual challenge. Although we have delivered significant savings, including £23m during 2019/20, we have to take a new approach to ensure that we can deliver good quality services for residents in the future and that adult social care services is financially sustainable.

“The new Target Operating Model transformation work will look at all aspects of adult social care, including changing processes and pathways of care, the use of early intervention and prevention and how we help maintain and prolong peoples independence.

“We have followed a full open procurement process and the bids received were carefully evaluated, culminating in the recommendation that Newton Europe carries out this transformation work which is taking place against a backdrop of significant change, including the national focus on greater health and social care integration and getting ready for the two new unitary councils in April 2021.”

Tony McArdle is the former chief executive of Lincolnshire Council and also was in post at Wellingborough Council. In his latest report back to Government he said the state of some of the council’s services, including emergency planning and highways, concerned him greatly.