CONSULTANTS have been rapped for 'misleading' claims over the way they handled the 'merger' of two councils.

The Advertising Standards Agency has taken Ignite to task over how it trumpeted its handling of last year's setting up of Somerset West and Taunton Council.

The new authority came into existence after Taunton Deane Borough and West Somerset Councils were scrapped.

Ignite, which earned £1.21million for its advice over the 'merger', posted on its website how it had overseen the transformation, which was supposed to save £3million of taxpayers' money every year, "creating a healthy and sustainable financial position".

David Orr, who lives in Taunton, complained to the ASA, arguing that Ignite's claims were "demonstrably false and unachieved".

He said: "They make bold claims on their website about savings that have not been made and the new council has been left in a terrible and costly mess as a result of their advice."

Mr Orr added that 191 employees were made redundant - when the council had aimed to shed 120 jobs - costing extra money and disrupting services due to staff shortages.

The ASA agreed with Mr Orr that Ignite was likely to have breached the advertising code.

An ASA spokesman said: "We have taken steps to address this.

"We have explained these concerns to Ignite and provided guidance to them on the areas that require attention, together with advice on how to ensure that their advertising complies with the codes."

SWT executive member Cllr Mike Rigby said: "Clearly the so-called transformation programme had not worked.

"The mass redundancy programme took no account of which jobs would actually need to be done following the reorganisation.

"This led to difficulties for the new council in delivering basic services such as ensuring the phones were answered and cutting the grass.

"It's taken us some time to stabilise the authority and I'm not wholly surprised the ASA has required that Ignite remove their glowing words about their work for those councils."

Ignite's Simon Vanden said he was proud of the support he offered the councils during the transition.

He added: "On completion of our work, the details of the case study were agreed with the council including both the savings target achieved and return on investment (ROI) period.

"A further request to the council in August verified that one-off costs related to redundancy had grown, exceeding business case expectations and pushing the ROI period back to 3.03yrs - (it was supposed to be less than three years).

"The overall savings of £3.5million were also verified as on track and included within their base budget. We have amended the commentary on our case study to reflect this."