The Public Accounts committee report says there has been excessive secrecy over the use of consultants by government, with confusion over how much is actually spent.
Departments overly secret with their preparations for Brexit
Departments have made extensive use of consultancy firms in support of their preparations for Brexit, spending at least £97 million by April 2019. Departments have been overly secretive about what the consultants are doing, as they have been before in providing information on other aspects of the Brexit preparations. When departments have published information on consultancy work, usually later than they should have, they have failed to meet the government’s own transparency standards. Departments took too long to publish information on the contracts being let, and some contracts were over-zealously redacted before publication.
Consultants have been used more for thinking and planning rather than doing
While we welcome the Cabinet Office’s establishment of a central call-off framework to help departments access consultants for Brexit work, the Cabinet Office seems overly relaxed that 96% of the work by value has so far gone to just six large companies, despite its own aspirations for more government work to go to small and medium-sized enterprises. Too much of the work procured to date appears to have been focused on “thinking and shaping” rather than getting practical things done. This only compounds our concerns over the speed of preparations for Brexit across Whitehall.
Cabinet Office does not know what departments spend on consultants
There is a widening gap between the Cabinet Office’s analysis of data on overall spending on consultancy services, not just to support Brexit, and expenditure reported by departments. It appears that different departments are choosing to categorise their spending on consultancy services in different ways. The Cabinet Office's failure to agree a common definition of “consultancy with departments and get to grips with this long-standing issue threatens its ability to exercise effective control over spending on consultancy and related services.
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