The Liberal Democrats have since 2010 received more than £500,000 in ‘pro-bono’ consultancy support from large professional services firms PwC and KPMG. During the same period, Labour has received £600,000 of consultancy advice from PwC. Between 2005 and 2010 the conservatives received £1.5 million, PwC and KPMG again led the pack, but also strategy consulting firms such as The Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company have provided them secondments.
The support came in the form of secondments as well as direct research advice. The shadow chancellor Ed Balls received almost £200,000 worth of secondments, while his team received £170,000 of advice. The Electoral Commission’s register of donations show that Labour also received £250,000 worth of donations from KPMG for staff support at its Party Headquarters. The advice was on topics such as tax policy, business and welfare. With the liberal democrats receiving their £500,000 donation in terms of staff costs from PwC and KPMG.
The debate between link between ‘free’ consultancy and politics is long debated. Historically consultants have been seen as thought leaders, possessing specialist knowledge on complex and diverse economic and financial knowledge. Since the shadow government lacks access to civil servants that possess the knowledge required to turn party policy ideas into reality, external knowledge and thought is required. This is where the consultants come in.
For the consultancy concerns themselves, providing their services for a reduced or ‘pro-bono’ rate presents possible advantages, in the form of familiarity both with the resultant policy and networking, a spokesperson for PwC stating: “Our people provide limited and fully disclosed technical support to the main political parties in areas where our expertise and knowledge of the business environment can help them better understand technical matters and the consequences of their policy proposals,” going on to say “We do not develop policy on their behalf.”
A spokesperson from KPMG said it is “longstanding policy” to provide secondments to political parties. “When staff are seconded, they operate entirely under the direction and management of the relevant party and the secondments are underpinned by strict confidentiality agreements,” the company said. “As such, KPMG receives no benefits or favourable treatment.”