Cabinet Office ‘scales back’ Crown Consultancy vision post-Cummings

Service now expected to focus on giving advice about consultancy spending, following departure of PM’s chief adviser
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By Jim Dunton

10 Dec 2020

The Cabinet Office’s plans for a “Crown Consultancy” service to replace the multi-million-pound advice of big-name private-sector firms are are being reshaped into an advisory service to steer the use of external consultants, according to reports.

The project had been touted as a way for the civil service to cut down on the cost of external consultants – such as McKinsey, KPMG and Deloitte – and seek to deliver an “in-house” offer.

However following the departure from Downing Street of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, said to be a driving force for the propsoals, the vision is being “watered down” into a unit offering advice on consultancy use, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The paper said it had seen internal documents suggesting the new body would create a “virtual network of teams undertaking consultancy-type work”, with Crown Consultancy staff set to “replace consultants on some early-stage strategy projects”.

Other aims would include reducing spending on management consultants for non-strategy based work, for which the new unit will provide an in-house alternative to the private sector.

The Telegraph said one of the documents quoted government chief people officer Rupert McNeil saying the Crown Consultancy would not be a “consultancy offering scale and services that could deliver £bn [sic] of work”.

He added: “It will not contain multiple specialist teams or replicate the organisational structure of a major consultancy firm. It will have a small core and provide an efficient platform and mechanisms for accessing high quality specialist consulting expertise that has been grown within government.”

Cabinet Office minister Lord Theodore Agnew is leading on the Crown Consultancy project. In September, he said the government's extensive use of external suppliers was “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”.

Last month, it emerged that the government had hired consultants to advise it on cutting down on its use of consultants.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told the Telegraph ministers were concerned that the government was “too reliant on consultants” and had written to departments to make clear that services should only be procured when external expertise ws essential and represents value for money.

"Where possible, we want to harness the wide range of skills within the civil service,” they added.

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