COUNCIL leaders have strongly defended the amount spent on consultants in the past year, saying it’s money important to the town’s development.

In the past year £2.8m has been spent, with the bulk of the cash going on roads and other infrastructure schemes, such as Wichelstowe.

However, this has drawn criticism from the opposition, who feel the money, up by almost £1m on the previous year, could be better spent on key services.

The cash covers a wide range of projects with specialist engineers the Halcrow Group, which provides support on road projects.

It received just over £1.5m over the course of the year, with much of it going towards road safety.

Council leader David Renard says the services which are provided by the consultants are key and many cannot be done in-house.

He said: “This money goes on key projects and key investments such as roads. I’m not sure what Labour want us to do.

“Are they saying we should not invest in the town or in road safety? About £300,000 has been used on the Wichelstowe project, which is a drop, given the potential £40m-plus implications for the council.

“There is more to running a unitary authority delivering hundreds of different, specialised services to 209,000 people than just cutting and pasting from a spreadsheet.”

The Labour group believes instead of making council staff redundant, which has been done in the past, the money spent on consultants could have been used to keep jobs.

Labour group leader Coun Jim Grant (Lab, Rodbourne Cheney) said: “Frankly, I think it’s a slap in the face to many hardworking council staff who have either lost their jobs or who will be transferred to another employer, in seeing the Conservative-controlled council ramp up the amount they spend on consultants.

“By using this £2.8m to retain the staff we’ve got, around 100 council officers’ jobs could be retained by the council. “These members of staff could be used to fix Swindon’s potholes, tidy up Swindon’s streets and look after our elderly.

“I believe Swindon should follow the lead of other Labour-controlled councils like in Slough, where they have managed to significantly reduce the number of compulsory staff redundancies and frozen the council-tax, through taking measures like significantly cutting back on consultants and senior management.”