WIRRAL Council’s chief executive Graham Burgess has defended a decision to hire consultants at a cost of more than £1m.

He insisted the move was good management, cheaper and more effective in the long-run because it brought in experts as they were needed.

The spending came to light after Leasowe councillor Ian Lewis submitted a Freedom of Information request.

Councillor Lewis said: "It is outrageous that Wirral Council should be spending £1m on highly-paid consultants.

"If the town hall needs £1m worth of professional advice, it begs the question what the existing senior directors are supposed to be doing?

"Once again, we see the council splashing the cash on itself while preaching austerity to the rest of us.”

The local authority confirmed bringing in 18 temporary executives for special projects.

Among them were an interim finance executive at a cost of £173,950 from November 2012 to March this year; and an “IT strategy” specialist from November 2012 to January this year at a cost of £135,275.

An “interim senior manager” in the department of social care from September 2012 to December last year was taken on at a cost of £87,099 and £84,790 was paid for “interim senior manager support” in the finance department from October 2012 to November last year.

Around £107,000 was also spent on hiring  a firm to assess the council's special needs transport costs.

But Mr Burgess said much of the expenditure had been covered by not filling vacancies.

He said: “The actual cost is around £600,000 when you take into account the savings made from the vacant posts.

“It would have cost the council much more to have recruited and appointed these highly skilled and experienced managers to the payroll.

“The majority of the consultants were hired to carry out specialist work or deliver specific key projects.

"In a number of these cases, we have been able to attract grant funding to cover the costs of hiring senior staff for that specific project, which has further helped offset our costs.

“It is good, effective management to appoint specialist staff for a specific, time-limited purpose – it’s cheaper and more effective in the long-run as we are able to rely on experts in a particular field working on behalf of the council only as and when they are required.”