Cabinet Office calls consultants to advise on in-house consultancy plans

Pilot for in-house 'Crown Consultancy' could begin next year, leaked emails show
Photo: Alachua County/CC BY 2.0

The Cabinet Office has called in management consultants to give advice on how government can reduce its reliance on consultants, it has been revealed.

The department has called on consultancies and trade associations to inform the government’s plans to set up an in-house “Crown Consultancy”, emails leaked to The Telegraph show.

In the emails, civil service chief people officer Rupert McNeil outlined plans to set up a “brand and platform” to provide capacity and skills to government bodies where it is needed, according to the newspaper.

The Cabinet Office aims to “launch an alpha pathfinder for a new Crown Consultancy capability” some time between January and August next year, the report said. Trade bodies and consultancies are offering input to the project but are not being paid for their work, a source told The Telegraph.

Under the plans, which were first reported in the Financial Times earlier this month, external consultants would be used less frequently only for specific tasks.

The project is being led by Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew, who has recently said the government's extensive use of external suppliers is “providing poor value for money” and “infantilises the civil service by depriving our brightest people of opportunities to work on some of the most challenging, fulfilling and crunchy issues”.

In a letter to civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm in September, Agnew said the government seemed to be ineffectual at using graduate Fast Stream civil servants to carry out work that is outsourced to consultants, “using similar people at a vastly inflated cost”.

The latest plans would see fast streamers, along with other officials appointed to the internal consultancy from elsewhere in the civil service.

Once the internal body is set up, McNeil said the use of external consultants "should only be... for new capability requirements or for very scarce skills that the government does not need to use regularly".

His comments echo those made earlier this month by Chisholm, who said the civil service should make “sparing” use of consultants only where it is justified to provide skills that are not available in house or where extra short-term capacity is needed.

Chisholm told a committee of MPs that he agreed with Lord Agnew that “we should be doing more in house, and that capabilities that used to be seen as things you would get external consultants to do... should now be regarded as core disciplines in the civil service”.

He said departments' use of consultants had peaked this year, as extra support was needed for the coronavirus response and preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "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." 

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