Probe on outsourced costs

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong Council is set to investigate the value-for-money of outsourcing work to consultants.

Councillors narrowly voted for a report on whether some of the outsourced services were better performed ‘in-house’.

Proponent Cr Maria Sampey said in her preamble that consultants were “repeatedly” hired for community engagement “when it could be cheaper to employ more staff”.

“This would also build skills in-house among our own staff”.

Councillor Matthew Kirwan, in support, there were needs for consultants with unique skills such as occasionally hiring a hydrologist for a drainage project or a specialist in aquatic centres.

However there was ongoing and expensive outsourcing of community engagement, such as surveys on the A-League stadium, Parkfield Reserve Masterplan and other plans and strategies.

It was worth investigating whether the council could save money by employing staff for that function, he said.

Cr Jim Memeti said the report was a “health check”, a chance to benchmark the council against other municipalities.

He put up the case of hiring a consultant for $50,000 for two weeks versus employing a staff member for $70,000 a year.

“I’m not saying one is better than the other,” he said.

“All this is asking for is a report.”

Cr Sean O’Reilly, in opposition, said concerns about consultant hire could be raised on a case-by-case basis.

A report examining out-sourcing “across-the-board” would cost “tens of thousands of dollars” and was unwarranted, he argued.

He said the council’s administration was best placed to make those judgements. They were used for unique skill-sets as well as to fill a gap when staff were busy.

Cr O’Reilly raised the possibility that the report could be written by a consultant. “How silly would that be?”

Cr Tim Dark noted the Federal Government spent $520 million on consultants, a figure much more than Greater Dandenong.

Hiring consultants was being “more efficient with ratepayers’ money” than hiring hundreds more staff, he said.

The report deadline is prior to councillor briefings for the 2019-20 council budget.