Excessive secrecy over the use of Brexit consultants

The Public Accounts committee has claimed that there has been excessive secrecy over the use of consultants by government, with confusion over how much is actually spent by departments.

Departments have spent at least £97 million, as of April 2019, on consultancy firms in support of their preparations for Brexit, but MPs claim that they have been overly secretive about what the consultants are doing.

When government departments have published information on consultancy work, usually later than they should have, they have failed to meet the government’s own transparency standards. Furthermore, departments took too long to publish information on the contracts being let, and some contracts were over-zealously redacted before publication.

It also 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.

While the Public Accounts Committee broadly welcomes the Cabinet Office’s establishment of a central call-off framework to help departments access consultants for Brexit work, it claims that the Cabinet Office seems overly relaxed that 96 per cent 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.

Additionally, 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.

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