MORE than half a million pounds has been spent on consultants by Dorset County Council in three months alone.

But it can't tell us the work that was carried out or the hours put in by the consultants paid.

The authority has once again come under fire for what it is spending on hiring external experts as a new report reveals it splashed out £516,000 in three months last year.

And the overall cost from April 2014-December 2014 (the first three quarters of the year) was more than £1.4m.

Dorset County Council was criticised earlier this month when the Echo revealed it had spent £63,525 on one communications consultant.

And now a new report, which will go before councillors on the staffing committee today, shows that consultants have also been employed by other departments across the authority.

These include the Chief Executive's Department, which spent £132,000 between October and December.

Environment spent £108,000 and Children's Services spent £106,000.

The quoted total figure includes the Dorset Waste Partnership- a joint venture between several councils- and Public Health.

However, when the Echo asked for a breakdown of how much individual consultants have been paid and the number of hours worked, we were told our questions would have to be treated as a Freedom of Information Request which would be answered within 20 working days, subject to time and cost limits.

We can expect the information by April 16, despite the report going before councillors this morning.

It is believed that consultants are currently being employed by the Dorset Waste Partnership to advise during the suspension of director Steve Burdis. They are also being employed to assist in the set-up of a Local Authority Trading Company for adult and community services.

Councillor Paul Kimber, who is on the staffing committee, says he has serious concerns about LATCs, partly because they are only accountable to Cabinet and not full council.

However, he added: "There are times when you have to have specialists that are so specialised in their particular subjects. It's important that, for the citizens of Dorset, we get the best advice there is."

Sarah Pattinson, GMB union Dorset rep, said the public has a 'right to know' where the consultants are working and how much is being spent.

She said she 'doesn't agree' with the argument that consultants provide independence or expertise that could not be found in-house.

"It's in their interest to give whatever information is requested rather than carry out independent research or independent findings because they are always competing for the next contract," she said.

"I really don't think they provide value for money.

"We are paying an awful lot of overheads we don't have to pay for existing staff carrying out the work.

"It's very difficult to see where consultants provide an economic benefit or what can not already be found in house.

"I am not convinced that everything that goes out to consultants is not deliverable in-house and you have also got to consider the knock-on effects for the local economy.

"Somewhere like Dorchester has a public sector-driven economy and if you create and in-house post, they are going to spend their wages locally.

"We would always support a very thorough assessment of what can be done internally before it is given over to consultants and we do not believe that's taking place at the county council."