'Massive amount of money:' City of Edmonton consulting costs spike to $269 million in two years despite audit

Edmonton City Hall.Edmonton City Hall. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia, file

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The City of Edmonton has increased spending on external consulting services since 2017, despite an audit calling for improvements to reduce unplanned costs.

The city spent about $269 million in consulting services between 2018 and 2019, the two years following a November 2018 audit that found $616 million was used over five years, shows data released last week.

“When we’re talking about is almost $600 million on professional services from 2015 to 2019, that is a huge chunk of change. That’s a massive amount of money that would solve homelessness in Edmonton,” said Ward 4 Coun. Aaron Paquette, who brought forward a motion to explore the consulting costs closer following the audit.

“If you are not hiring in-house, but you’re contracting out, are you actually optimizing or not? And it looks like in some of these cases we absolutely are not.”

Spending of $136.8 million in 2019 was a 32 per cent increase from 2017.


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Consulting services accounted for 9.1 per cent of the city’s 2019 capital budget, up from 8.8 per cent in 2017, and 1.3 per cent of the operating budget, from 1.1 per cent in the last year of the audit.

Professional services are used by the city for a number of projects where city staff are unable to meet the specific requirements of the work. This includes engineering, architecture or technology consulting as well as strategic advice and analysis where hiring permanent staff isn’t financially feasible.

“The city is always looking for ways to be more efficient and to reduce costs. There are times when bringing in consultants can help lower costs for taxpayers, as their skills are not needed in-house in the long term. With this in mind, rather than specifically looking to reduce the use of consultants, we want to ensure that we make sound decisions around consultant use,” city spokeswoman Gayleen Froese said in an email to Postmedia.

Paquette said there’s room for improvement in order to reduce costs.

He points to $318.9 million spent in “planned contract amendments” that possibly could have been handled ahead of time to save money. The city also spent an additional $59 million in unplanned contract changes, meaning 65 per cent of the city’s consulting fees over the past five years were from contract changes.

Paquette said calling for a streamlining of the process and ways to better balance what the city can do and what must be contracted out in term of consulting.


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Due to COVID-19, the consulting budget for 2020 was cut by $16 million and by $2.8 million in 2021. Although the city notes it as a one-time reduction, Paquette said he wants to know how the city is managing it and hopes lessons can be learned to bring down the budget permanently.

“I understand that in some cases when it’s a really large organization, high level sort of things, consulting is the right move, you’re not going to have super specialized services always on hire within the organization,” he said. “However, it seems that a lot of it could be handled in house.”

Paquette and other councillors will have an opportunity to ask questions of city administration on the topic at Monday’s executive committee meeting.




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