CASH-strapped civic chiefs in Southampton have brought in private consultants in a bid to save the city council money and bring in new income.

With the council facing a black hole of £90million in its finances and bosses admitting they “have to be realistic” about more job losses, PWC has been appointed to help the authority become “sustainable”.

The council has refused to say how much the firm will be paid over the next two years, but said it will be based on the results they deliver and that change is needed in the way the council works.

But the move has been criticised as “too little too late” by some opponents, while others have labelled it a “waste of money”, saying Labour have had three years to carry out work but have now been forced to spend taxpayers’ money on consultants.

As previously reported, even after millions of pounds worth of savings and hundreds of jobs being lost, the council faces having to make £90million of savings in the next four years.

Labour council leaders have blamed the Government’s reduction of its grant for the predicament, and launched the “transformation programme” last year in a bid to make the council more efficient and not only save money to create more income going forward.

So far it has seen changes from putting more services online, moving staff out of all but two buildings and even introducing an open plan arrangement that has seen senior staff, including the chief executive, lose their own offices and sit alongside their colleagues to bring down running costs.

But now they have named PWC as their “strategic transformation partner”, with council chiefs saying the firm will work alongside staff in its buildings to come up with ways of making the council more efficient, saving money and generating more income.

Labour cabinet member for transformation and change, Chris Hammond, said the firm had been appointed as “we don’t have the experience of large-scale challenges like this”, and added: “If PWC don’t deliver on changes for us they won’t get any money.”

With 89 per cent of residents now having access to the internet, among the potential ideas for changing the way the council works are developing a “My Southampton” phone app allowing people to access services on their mobiles, changing the way it buys in, or procures, services from external organisations, and sharing more services with other organisations.

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The council has also named Steve Giacchino (above) as its new transformation implementation director, to oversee the work, and he said: “There is a lot the council could be doing to deliver something differently.”

Council leader Simon Letts said the deal with PWC would “help us become both financially viable and culturally ready for the changing landscape”, while chief executive Dawn Baxendale, who admitted “we have to be realistic” about more potential job losses, but stressed that the council “would not leave behind” people unable to use services online.

However the move has been criticised, with Conservative group leader Jeremy Moulton saying: “They have identified only £15million of savings through transformation for next year, which is 25 per cent of what is needed, that clearly isn’t good enough.

“It is too little too late after three years of dithering.

“That’s not to say there isn’t an opportunity here and I’m not against having a commercial partner.

“But it’s very easy to bring in consultants, it’s a lot harder to bring in real benefits.”

Anti-cuts councillor Don Thomas said: “It seems strange that this Labour council can always find the money for consultants, as they have been for the past three years, but when it comes to respite centres and other services for vulnerable people they say ‘sorry, we can't afford it’.“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money after having three years to have done what they needed to do.”