Consultants and Agency Staff

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th July 2019.

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Photo of Susan Hall Susan Hall Conservative

What progress have you made in reducing the overuse of consultants and agency staff across the GLA Group?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

There has been significant progress across the Greater London Authority (GLA) Group in cutting the numbers of consultants and agency staff compared to the practices I inherited when I became Mayor in 2016. There is a focus on using resources wisely and ensuring value for money. Staffing and project budgets are allocated during the budget‑setting process. These budgets are closely monitored throughout, and overspending has to be accounted for by senior officers.

As in all organisations it is sometimes necessary to appoint agency staff or consultants for specific reasons. Temporary staff cover short‑term vacancies in established posts or peaks in work, while consultants are used to provide technical expertise for specific projects. It often simply is not possible to recruit permanently when a specialist is required only for a short‑term assignment, after which the GLA would have no requirement for their skills. There is ongoing work underway to continue reducing spending on both agency staff and consultants and the GLA are strictly in control of spend in these areas. Budgets should not be used on consultants and agency staff unless it is really necessary to do so and approval of any spend is thoroughly scrutinised.

TfL has committed to reducing the use of non‑permanent staff. At the end of 2015 there were over 3,000. This has been reduced to 1,192 by March 2019, saving £100 million a year. In addition, the LFB has reduced its use of consultants by 25% since 2014, resulting in budget savings of over 40%. MOPAC has reduced its agency workers from 6.6% of the workforce in 2018 to 2.6% today. Here at the GLA there has been a tight grip of agency spend. The Chief Officer Mary Harpley and her top team have done significant work to ensure that we are only using agency staff when we have a real need. The Chief Officer has also introduced measures to speed up recruitment times for established posts, which means that vacant posts are filled more quickly, shortening the length of time that agency staff provide temporary cover. I expect the numbers of agency staff to decrease on the back of these tighter controls and improvements to recruitment timescales.

Photo of Susan Hall Susan Hall Conservative

Excellent, that is good news, Mr Mayor. However, in a written question to me you said that it was not possible to provide an annual breakdown of expenditure on consultants and temporary staff. How can you get a grip of it properly if you are not measuring it?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

We are measuring it. I am not sure what you refer to. Apologies.  I do not remember the letter. On a quarterly basis we do monitor in the direction we are going. What we are trying to do is reduce the recruitment times to reduce the gap. I had happy to look into what you have been told. I cannot recollect the letter.  I am sorry.

Photo of Susan Hall Susan Hall Conservative

It would be good if you could look into it because the answer on the consultant side was:

“Expenditure on consultants is set out in decision forms and published on the GLA’s website as ... the category is so broad that it is not possible to provide a breakdown.”

It must be if it is there. Either it is there or it is not there. It is all very unclear. This is why we asked the question.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, can I look into this? I note the Chair of the Budget and Performance Committee [Gareth Bacon AM] is sitting next to you. I am surprised we cannot do because I am sure the Budget and Performance Committee looked into it. Can I take this away and come back to you and write to both the Chair and to Susan Hall as well?

Photo of Susan Hall Susan Hall Conservative

That would be very helpful, thank you. Some of these staff members who are receiving money from the public payroll are being paid through the public service companies and therefore are using this as a tax dodge. Do you think it is acceptable that people receiving public money are minimising their tax in this way?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

No, that should not be happening. As I have explained in my answer, there are sometimes reasons why we have no choice but to use either agency staff or consultants. What it should not be is a way of avoiding or evading the proper paying of taxes. If you want to do it confidentially, you can always let me know if you know of any cases where that is happening. I am happy to look into it to make sure it is not happening.

Photo of Susan Hall Susan Hall Conservative

To absolutely confirm, you think it is unacceptable that people receiving public money are minimising their tax through public services companies?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

If City Hall is paying for this ‑‑

Photo of Susan Hall Susan Hall Conservative

In general. What do you think?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I cannot answer in general.  I can answer more specifically, which is for City Hall. As far as City Hall is concerned, we do not think it is a good idea and I would not want that to happen. If the Assembly Member knows of anybody who the City Hall is paying to try to avoid or evade taxes, please let me know.

Photo of Susan Hall Susan Hall Conservative

OK. I know of somebody but I think she is now on the payroll and I will not mention her name here anyway. Thank you, Mr Mayor.