Byron Council is overly-reliant on analysis and advice from external consultancies, some of which have conflicts of interest which inhibit their ability to provide frank and fearless advice, Greens Councillor Duncan Dey says.
As disturbing revelations about the use of consultants by the federal government continue to emerge, Cr Dey is calling for an internal examination of Council’s own use of external consultants.
This examination, which Cr Dey will formally propose at Council’s next meeting, would include calculating the amount Council spent on consultants during the last financial year, and exploring whether such advice could be provided in-house.
It would also examine what criteria Council applied before it sought comparative quotes for consultancies, and whether Council had a protocol for managing consultants’ conflicts of interest.
Cr Dey said Council had relied heavily on expert reports when making key decisions, and that these often came from, or were assessed by, external consultants.
‘We live in a time where state and federal government use of consultants has become so rife that these two levels of public service find themselves stripped of expertise in carrying out many of these actions within the public service,’ Cr Dey said.
‘Local government too is experiencing increased use of consultants, favouring the private consultant industry over carrying out the same activities in-house.
‘Apart from deskilling the staff, the use of consultants [by Byron Council] may be more expensive, is relatively unregulated, and could be carried out by a small number of consultancy companies.’
He said accusations had been made at a federal level that consultants’ advice could be self-serving rather than the ‘raw truth’, and that there had been examples of conflicts of interest locally as well.
As evidence of this, Cr Dey pointed to advice Council received last month on the hydraulic efficacy of its additional flow path, a drainage path that utilises the stormwater channel which drains Byron Arts & Industry Estate.
He said the advice had been provided by the same external consultants who had previously provided advice about drainage and fill in support of the West Byron housing estate development.
The consultants in question had stated that there would be no impact on the surrounding catchment from the developer’s plans to put two metres of fill across a large area.
Cr Dey said this opened the potential for a conflict of interest when it came to providing Council with advice about the impact of West Byron on the additional flow path.
He then provided three further examples of alleged conflict of interest in relation to Council’s use of external contractors, covering external advice relating to Mullumbimby’s future water supply, and plans for a Byron Shire rail trail.
‘Conflicts do exist,’ Cr Dey said.
Cr Dey will seek support for his motion on the agenda to the September 14 Council meeting.