A BEHIND-closed-doors decision to employ consultants, at a cost of £6.6million, to deliver savings for Lancashire County Council, has been blasted by opposition councillors.

Conservative leader Cllr Geoff Driver has questioned why an Oxfordshire-based outsourcing company has been taken on to help the authority’s adult social care service slash £36million from the budget.

The controversial move was taken behind closed doors by the Labour-controlled county council, who have insisted their scheme should be considered as an ‘invest to save’ proposal.

Around 360 jobs are being axed as part of plans which will see County Hall having to save £262million by 2020, with the number of libraries cut from 74 to 34 and question marks remaining over bus services, children’s centres, youth zones and parenting centres.

Cllr Driver said that a payment of 16 or 17 per cent to the consultants, for the overall savings of £36million, would be considered ‘excessive’, with anything above 10 per cent usually ‘raising eyebrows’.

He said: “It seems absolutely ridiculous to spend £6.6million on consultants to do what is the fundamental and core function of the senior officers of the county council.

“It beggars belief that we are making people redundant and making significant cuts to services and we are prepared to do this.”

Cllr Driver also wanted to know whether the consultants, who also have offices in New York and Amsterdam, would be paid whether their recommendations were accepted by the ruling group or not.

County Cllr David Borrow, the council’s deputy leader and finance cabinet member, insisted that there had been a full debate, in private, on the proposals at the council’s executive scrutiny committee.

He said: “The company involved is well-known in local government circles.

“When I have been involved in conferences, and spoken to colleagues and have mentioned this company the view is that they have helped to look after boroughs up and down the country.

“I see this as an invest to save proposal.”

Cllr Borrow believed that to ask senior officers to come up with the anticipated savings, on top of their day-to-day work, was ‘not deliverable’.

He confirmed that the firm would only be paid if the savings were delivered.

Cllr Alyson Barnes, chairman of the scrutiny committee, said: “This whole area of work, through Newtons, is an integral part of the changes that need to be made to adult social care.”

Liberal Democrat Peer and deputy leader of Pendle Council Tony Greaves said: “£6.6 million seems a lot of money.

“If having a clear sighted view from an outside consultant produces a better service and savings in the long-term, it may well be worth it.

“I shall judge it on whether it improves the county council social services department’s performance.”