The move to pay independent experts to give advice on such matters as the “experience of the customer” and the “culture” of the police could hardly have come at a worse time for the force, which is cutting hundreds of jobs to deliver spending cuts of £126 million.
Although the use of consultants would always have had the potential to be controversial, the forthcoming election for a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in November has given the issue additional prominence and embarrassment value.
There was no comment from West Midlands Police, but Birmingham Labour MP Steve McCabe accused the force of “frittering away cash”.
Mr McCabe, who sits on the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, told the Birmingham Post: “The force is facing the biggest cuts in its history and this year is the worst year of all.
“This is entirely the wrong time to be frittering away cash on consultants. How is all this money available for consultants when we are losing police officers hand over fist?
“I am astonished they need to bring in outside people to tell them about their own culture.
“It would be helpful if the force could provide a succinct briefing of what it is paying consultants to do.
“The Select Committee took evidence on the issue of consultants at the force and the Chief Constable was not able to explain what they do.”
Mr McCabe was joined by fellow Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who said money used to hire consultants could have been used to keep front line police officers in a job.
Former Birmingham city councillor Matt Bennett, one of two Conservatives seeking the party nomination to stand for Police Commissioner also waded into the row: “I think most West Midlands residents will be astonished to read of the spending on consultants carried out by the police.
“Over £500,000 is being paid out to consultants to run programmes such as the Customer Journey and Culture, Audit and Inventory. It would be hard enough to justify some of this spending in good economic times, but given the current situation it really is incredible.
“The most worrying part is that they are paying consultants £70,000 to ‘discover details of the current culture at the force’ If senior officers and members of the Police Authority do not know about the current culture at the force then where have they been spending their time?”
Mr Bennett sought to embarrass Labour’s West Midlands Police Commissioner candidate, Coun Bob Jones, a police authority member for 25 years. He said that, as chairman of the Authority’s finance and resources committee, Coun Jones was responsible for overseeing value for money.
“Would somebody please give him a prod? He needs to wake up and do his job”, Mr Bennett added.
Coun Jones was unavailable for comment, but a report to the police authority defended the use of consultants, claiming that the force could not do the work in-house.
Projected costs include a £75,000 budget for a review of customer service and £80,000 for finding out more about the “customer journey”.
A sum of £70,000 was set aside to conduct a study on the culture of the force. The culture audit will include workshops with staff. The report said the consultants would “discover details of the current culture at the force and analyse the valuable and distinctive features of the current culture for retention and development”.
In March, the force announced more than 300 jobs would be axed, including 85 police officer posts.