Cabinet Office asks consultants to help lower reliance on consultants

27 November 2020 3 min. read
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Management consultants and trade bodies are reportedly providing pro bono advice on plans to establish an in-house Crown Consultancy. According to the Cabinet Office, the plans come amid mounting concerns that “the government is too reliant on consultants.”

With the Civil Service and NHS already under-resourced after a decade of austerity cuts, and Brexit seeing the Government spread thin before 2020, the pandemic has seen the state asked to do even more with less throughout the year. In response to the coronavirus crisis, the UK Government has subsequently resorted to massive outsourcing of its work, tapping consultants from many of the world’s largest professional services firms.

In August 2020, publicly available data collated by The Guardian and online journalism platform openDemocracy revealed that Whitehall had doled out contracts worth a total of £56 million to help with the national response to the first wave of Covid-19. By October, this bill was found to have spiralled to £175 million, an increase which was so large that UK Parliament announced a probe into the Government’s heightened use of management consultants amid the crisis.

Cabinet Office asks consultants to help lower reliance on consultantsOne of the heaviest spenders on consulting is the Cabinet Office, with analysis from research firm Tussell finding the governmental department has nearly trebled its spending on outside consultancies over three years, to reach £37 million between 2019 and 2020. Over that period, eight top consulting firms have received a combined £120 million from Cabinet Office contracts. Now, as the Government faces calls to rein in its spending on consultants, it has been revealed that the Cabinet Office has called in management consultants to give advice on how government can reduce its reliance on consultants.

According to emails leaked to The Telegraph, the department called on consultancies and trade associations to inform the government’s plans to set up an in-house “Crown Consultancy.” While the consultants are not being paid for their work, the newspaper stated they would offer input into an “alpha pathfinder” for the new Crown Consultancy capability somewhere between January and August 2021. The report also noted that the emails of Civil Service Chief People Officer Rupert McNeil outlined plans to set up a “brand and platform” to provide capacity and skills to public bodies where it is needed.

The project is being led by Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew, who has recently said the government's extensive use of external suppliers “infantilises the civil service,” while providing poor value for money. The plans, which were first reported in the Financial Times earlier in November, suggest external consultants would be used less frequently, and only for specific tasks.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson commented, "Ministers are concerned that the government is too reliant on consultants and have written to departments to make clear that services should only be procured when external expertise is essential and represents value for money. Where possible, we want to harness the wide range of skills within the civil service."