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MP blasts council’s 150k spend on ‘spin doctors brought up from London’

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An MP has blasted Derbyshire County Council after it was revealed the authority spent more than £150,000 on a London-based PR consultancy firm last year.

Nigel Mills, the Conservative MP for Amber Valley, condemnded the Labour-led authority’s spend on what he described as a “spin” firm.

However, the council has defended the investment – saying it is now communicating messages to more people.

The information, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show how the council paid the Campaign Company £153,510 for 13 months work over 2013-2014.

The six-figure sum was paid to the firm, which was founded by a former assistant general secretary of the Labour party, to undertake projects including running focus groups and devising a new communications strategy for the authority.

Mr Mills said that it was “beyond belief” that the council spent more than £150,000 on “spin doctors brought up from London”.

He added: “The most disgraceful part is that the council pleads poverty and publicly threatens vulnerable people with service cuts, while wasting resources on consultants fees.

“It’s nothing new, however – you only have to look at the £219,000 Labour forked out as a ‘golden goodbye’ to get rid of the authority’s chief executive.”

The Freedom of Information Act request has also revealed that the Croydon-based firm plans to offer further training to councillors in September.

Responding the Mr Mills’ comments, county council leader Anne Western accused him of making mischief and said that his comments were a sign that he has got “political jitters” ahead of next year’s general election.

She added: “Our work with The Campaign Company has gone through the normal procedures and there’s absolutely nothing amiss in the way the company was engaged by this council.

“It’s a company that has worked with councils of all colours, it has worked with Northamptonshire, Barnet and Essex – all of which are Tory-controlled.

“It has also worked with Lib Dem councils as well as Labour, they’ve also worked with the NHS, the Met Police and the Local Government Association.

“The reason we decided to bring them in is because the council’s communication strategy hadn’t been externally reviewed for many years and social media has changed the way people communicate and receive information.

“We’re spending this money as an investment in the long-term to help us make significant savings by using innovative approaches to talk and listen to our residents as effectively as possible.”

Cllr Weston said that before they hired the PR consultancy firm, they were sending out letters which were being thrown in the bin – but now they are sending text messages and using Facebook to inform people.

She added: “It’s never been more important for us to make long-term savings and involve people in how we offer our services and signpost them to other support that is available to them.

“For example, we were given funding to offer free child care for two year olds to families on low incomes.

“We were finding the take up was low and it was because we weren’t getting the message through.

“We were sending out official letters containing council speak, which people were simply throwing in the bin because they assumed it was not good news, that meant officers had to try again and it was wasting money.

“Now they’re sending text messages and putting it on Facebook, this investment has contributed to the council saving £485,000 on its communications budget and led to us delivering a better service.”

 

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