Buying-in skills and expertise

As I write, the Government Procurement Service is putting the final touches to its new ConsultancyONE framework, the list of suppliers who it has qualified to provide consulting services to central government and every other part of the public sector that wants to use it. When it goes live, this framework is set to become the single route through which government will purchase these services.

This is an important moment. It follows a long period after the 2010 general election in which ministers have clamped down on departmental spending on consultancy, imposing tight controls and promoting the argument that their Labour predecessors were careless buyers. That, in turn, followed a number of critical reports from the NAO which questioned the ability of public sector clients to evaluate the value that they received from consultancy.

Buying with confidence
Thankfully, this story should be about to improve. More people in government can see that they need access to the input and expertise that is provided by the UK’s outstanding management consulting firms. Now, I hope and believe, they have the means of buying it that gives them the confidence that they will be tested on their business case and can generate best possible value for taxpayers.

Independent research for the MCA found that, on average, clients see immediate value from consulting projects worth around six times the fees that they pay. The public sector can easily achieve these levels of return on its investments. ConsultancyONE, by opening up public sector business to more quality consulting firms, including smaller specialist firms, and by requiring improved buying and the evaluation of results, can ensure that it does so. Forthcoming industry-wide data from the MCA suggests that this corner may have been turned already. After two years of dramatic falls in public sector spending on consulting services, there has been a levelling off and, even, some increases in particular areas.

This is not surprising. Spending on consulting often drops when a new government is elected since it is, at that point, concentrating on developing policy and legislation. Consulting often comes into its own when policy has to be turned into action, and major reforms are being implemented.

The impact has been exaggerated this time, of course, by the scale of the deficit and the new government’s determination to reduce it. Equally, however, ministers and senior officials increasingly see that there are significant risks to them if they are not open to the use of consulting – and that opportunities may be missed if they are not prepared to use ConsultancyONE to access our industry.

Risky business

One example of the risks is the recent West Coast Mainline franchise fiasco, where a decision was taken early on not to engage outside assistance. As the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons recently concluded: “The government’s moratorium on using consultants combined with the Department’s over-optimistic view of its own capacity to undertake financial analysis were significant contributory factors in the failure of this project.”

In others areas, it is the scale and ambition of government reforms that will require consulting support and input. One effect of the recent changes to the NHS, for instance, has been to increase the demand for consultancies which can help commissioning groups to prepare and carry out their role, support hospitals which need to become more efficient and effective for patients, or improve the health sector’s use of IT and other technology.

These are all essential tasks, and the future of our NHS depends on them being carried out to a high standard. Fortunately, there are many management consultancies in the UK which have an in-depth understanding of the issues and of how to work with the staff of the NHS to get the best results for patients and taxpayers.

In a period of public sector austerity and public sector reform, the challenges for government are great. Ministers have been tasked with transforming their departments, boosting productivity, reducing costs and improving services.

The UK’s management consultancy firms are ready and able to help them to do this. They know, more than ever, that they must deliver high quality and high value services. They want to contribute to the wider, public good. ConsultancyONE can help ensure that they are able to do so.

Case Study
The following case study with West Midlands Police shows how the intelligent use of consulting services can save money for taxpayers, while also improving services for the citizen. Multiply these many times over and consulting can provide the government with the transformation in organisation and quality of services that they are often looking for, while also reducing the deficit in the public finances.

The government’s 2010 spending review called for £134 million in budget cuts; a huge challenge given that results in the West Midlands had been declining, with rising crime and falling detection levels.

The joint KPMG/client team completely changed the structure, operational processes and roles of officers, creating smaller, more specialised teams to focus on emergency response, crime investigation, community engagement and custody. Officers and staff moved to new shift patterns and trained in new processes and IT systems – all in just 24 weeks.

This seismic shift took place in a ‘live’ policing environment where failure could have put lives at risk; therefore officer commitment was critical. By spending time on the beat and observing their challenges, KPMG’s team won the trust of officers.

The organisational transformation busted the prevailing myth that you can’t cut costs and improve results.

Despite officer numbers being reduced by 900, crime is down by a staggering 13 per cent, which is more than double the national average. Detection rates are back on the rise and customer satisfaction in some areas is up from 61 per cent to 98 per cent.

Further information

www.mca.org.uk