Tower Hamlets to look closely at agency deals

Tower Hamlets Council will monitor the use of PR consultants more closely, following an investigation into the contract of local government specialist Verve Commu­nications.

An internal committee ruled that the tendering process for the contract had been carried out subject to the correct procurement rules. The Labour-led council has said it will accept recommendations made by the council scrutiny committee.

The scrutiny committee launched its enquiry to the use of consultants earlier this year following a request from the opposing local Conservative group. The group's leader, Simon Rouse, said: This should ­never have been allowed to happen.'

Verve was initially contracted to supply £250,000 worth of services from July 2005 to November 2006, but the expenditure actually totalled £900,000. The additional activities came from a larger than expected use of interim staff and additional projects from council depart­ments, according to a council report.

Verve MD Lorraine Langham told PRWeek: ‘Having been subjected to such close scrutiny at Tower Hamlets no substantial issues have emerged and we look forward to working with them until the end of our contract... All consultancies welcome clarity about what is expected from them.'

Verve has come under fire since its early appointment in 2005 (PRWeek, 15 July 2005). The agency picked up plans to restructure the ­comms team - a move that even­tually lead to strike action. 

However, it is not uncommon for council restructures to prompt trade union involvement. Haringey Council settled a spat with its ­comms team via the Advi­sory Conciliatory and Arbitration Service after a restructure was recommended via an exter­nal agency in 2004.

Tower Hamlets restarted its latest search for a head of comms last year and is expec­ted to reveal the candidate next week. Verve's contract has been extended up until July, when it is expected to cease working with the authority. 

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