Southern Downs Regional Council chambers
Southern Downs Regional Council chambers

Concerns raised over consultants

RATES could be significantly reduced if council used fewer outside consultants, Warwick Chamber of Commerce president David Littleproud said.

He said with the amount of money the Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) was paying in wages, there should be a level of expertise within staff to keep the work in-house.

“It was reported on Friday's Daily News front page that the average wage of all council workers is $50,000 a year,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Surely with that level of remuneration we could save some money and not have to spend on high-priced consultations.”

Mayor Ron Bellingham agreed it was frustrating when outside consultants were used and their work was inadequate but said Mr Littleproud's comments were simplistic.

“When an inappropriate report comes through, I am always prepared to voice my dissatisfaction to the staff and would expect that the consultants responsible wouldn't have much of an opportunity to do work for council again,” he said.

“I did have some concerns about the ever-increasing practice of bringing them in, which started before my time, but a lot of areas are now so complex, and that's a concern in itself, council has no choice.

“Generally speaking consultants are brought in for their level of expertise in specific areas.”

He said even in the highly skilled areas such as engineering, council officers had knowledge in specific areas of the industry and couldn't always advise on every project.

He said the consultants were coming in at a significant cost but a balance had to be achieved.

“Mostly there has been a positive result from the consultants' work but I think council does, and has continued to be, selective about who they use.”

But Mr Littleproud said council needed to start living within its means so the rest of the community could as well.

“The council has to realise that Warwick, and the whole Southern Downs community, is not in the silvertail class that can just keep digging deeper in their pockets each year to pay higher rates,” he said.

“Based on latest figures, the Southern Downs shows as having nearly double the state average of economically disadvantaged persons.”

According to the Office of Economic and Statistical Research regional profile generated this month, 50% of the Southern Downs population was earning less than $400 per week, 34.4% were earning between $400 and $999 per week and 7.2% were earning between $1000 and $1999 per week.

“Surely figures like this should persuade council to work as hard as it can within their 2011-2012 budget to maintain and encourage business and employment in our town,” Mr Littleproud said.

Cr Bellingham said he was aware of the figures but other factors had to be taken into account.

He said he was concerned the rates hike this year could send small businesses over the edge, which would have a flow-on effect on the local economy, but maintained cutting back on outside consultation wasn't an option.

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