SDHB’s consulting bill queried

A health union is questioning a bill of more than $978,000 the Southern District Health Board has run up with an Auckland consulting firm.

The Public Service Association will raise the issue at a monthly meeting between unions and the health board next week.

Alma Consulting invoiced the board for $600,374 from July 2015 to May 24 (the most recent date available).

Alma also invoiced for $378,061 in the previous financial year (2014-15).

Two consultants from the firm have carried out the work. The pair provided assistance writing the board's 2015-16 budget, and were hired in 2014, but the exact date is not known.

Contacted yesterday, PSA organiser Julie Morton said she knew nothing about Alma Consulting's work at the board, despite having a lot to do with staff there.

She said the consulting bill was a lot of money and she wanted to know more about the work as it had a potential impact on her members if it was going to lead to changes.

"The consultancy they were bringing in [from London] to do all that work on values and culture, whether you disagree with it or not . . . at least you know.''

Mrs Morton said she accepted there was a role sometimes for outside consultants to look at a situation with fresh eyes, but they often lacked context and local knowledge.

"I don't have any objection to outside consultants. I just think you need to take a really balanced view.''

In a formal response to an Official Information Act request, acting chief executive Lexie O'Shea said the consultants had been working on "service alignment'' in recent months.

Asked what that meant, she provided another written statement: "This has involved a systematic analysis of areas across the DHB to gain robust and more detailed understanding of our expenditure and performance.

"This has enabled us to develop budgets with greater accuracy, and enhances our ability to plan,'' Mrs O'Shea said.

"Gaining greater confidence in our data continues to be a critical priority for the DHB, and we are focusing on developing our internal capability in this area.''

Mrs O'Shea's statement said no decision had been made "in relation to any ongoing work that may be required from them'', but it was unclear whether the company would invoice for any services provided after May 24.

Alma Consulting's website says it provides corporate finance and strategy consulting.

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