I write in response to the front page article in tthe Gazette (January 29) for two reasons – first to correct an inaccuracy in the article itself and secondly to take up the issue of Hackney Council s use of expensive consultant and agency staff...

I write in response to the front page article in tthe Gazette (January 29) for two reasons - first to correct an inaccuracy in the article itself and secondly to take up the issue of Hackney Council's use of expensive consultant and agency staff.

Your article has, I'm afraid, misinterpreted what I explained to your reporter when he phoned me for a comment. Thew report asserts that I said that the council spent �42 million on consultants last year. This is not, in fact, the case.

I explained that the council spent that amount on temporary agency staff, which, although should still be of great concern, is not the same as the spend on consultants, which I understand to be closer to �3 million.

The article did, however, highlight several important issues which the council and your readers should take note of.

There is, of course, no doubt that an organisation as large as the council, which employs about 3,800 staff across many different occupations, will at times require the specialist expertise of consultants in order to carry out specialised work.

However, in my experience, large numbers of consultants are brought in to carry out routine work, such as workplace restructuring and the drafting-up of departmental business plans, which should be carried out by departmental heads and senior management.

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Indeed the council's use of consultants (at great expense to the taxpayer) invariably means that departmental managers are able to pass the buck when things go wrong, blaming the consultants when structures don't meet the needs of service users or when business plans are lacking.

This, in turn, I believe, serves to undermine the central principal of local government which is, of course, its public accountability.

In terms of the agency spend of �42 million, the council would do well to reduce this figure as it translates to literally hundreds of permanent council jobs being filled by temporary agency workers.

The cruel irony in this situation is that the majority of those agency staff are paid less money than their permanent counterparts doing the same job whilst the council spends more per hour to hire them after the agency has taken their cut.

We recognise that there will always be a need for agency workers to plug the gaps, but feel strongly that the council should be doing all it can to fill permanent jobs with permanent workers.

Another concern is the borough's unemployment figure, but I understand that the majority of agency staff do not live in Hackney itself.

The council used to run its own employment agency, which matched up local people with local council work, and I think this could be one of many ways of getting the unemployed in Hackney back to work while reducing the council's reliance on expensive agency staff.

As a trade unionist, many may think that I automatically believe that managers are bad and workers are good and in many cases this is correct. However, clearly the council has a need to employ senior managers.

It would seem that on this occasion Cllr Coggins is more than happy to assume the traditional union line with his predictable less managers more frontline services spiel. This sentiment is, on the face of it, positive and right, but Cllr Coggins betrays what he is really thinking later in the article by saying that the Tories would "see what is really necessary".

Judging by what happens in other Tory councils up and down the land, that would undoubtedly mean privatisation of council services and a less publicly accountable local authority.

Rather than lambasting directly employed council managers for getting paid too much, perhaps he should focus his efforts on holding the council to account on why it spends so much money on consultants to do the work of those managers he is so keen to get rid of.

Matthew Waterfall,

Branch Secretary,

Hackney Unison.

PS: Please pass on my apologies to Cllr Akehurst for breaching his stringent word count rule.