The Cabinet Office has repurposed several Brexit consultancy contracts to commission private firms’ help on projects to tackle the coronavirus crisis and has set up “clearing hub” for departments to bid for support.
The Crown Commercial Service has published documents showing contracts with at least 17 consulting firms – which could be worth up to as much as £100m a year combined – have been updated so they can be used for coronavirus-focused projects.
The companies were sent letters updating the terms of the agreements on 23 March, the same day as the prime minister, Boris Johnson announced the government was imposing a UK-wide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The deals are worth between £3m and £10m a year, plus VAT, if departments use the companies under the framework. Because they are call-off contracts, departments engage the companies as needed and are not obliged to spend that total value of the contract.
The updated conctracts now include the following paragraphs: “Over the next four months, government departments most heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic are anticipating a significant increase in demand for additional skills, capability and programme management expertise from the consultancy market, to support successful delivery of solutions across a broad range of requirements.
“The Cabinet Office is looking to engage partners who have knowledgeable and expert resource with the appropriate skills and experience to be deployed across a number of government Covid-19 projects to help expedite delivery. The successful providers will work with a cross-government commercial clearing hub to deploy consultants into the departments and projects most in need of support.”
Management consultancies that can demonstrate they have the relevant skills will work with a cross-government “commercial clearing hub” to deploy consultants into departments and projects “most in need of support”, the documents add.
Departments could bring in consultants to fills skills gaps in commercial, operational, programme and project management and analysis for work relating to either Brexit or Covid-19.
Among the companies invited to bid to join the clearing hub were: Harmonic, Prederi, RedQuadrant, North Highland, Methods Business and Digital, Reed Professional Services, and Bramble Hub, which have all signed Brexit consultancy contracts that could be worth up to £6m.
The possible value of the contracts that the companies could be asked to work on through the clearing hub is also £6m, although the terms of the agreements state that the CCS “cannot guarantee volumes of any work that may be allocated”.
A contract with North Highland, published a year ago, says that services would be would “primarily be carried out at HMG locations within the UK to be agreed on a project-by-project basis”.
Agreements worth £3m and £10m were also updated with Mott MacDonald, McKinsey and Company, KPMG, Deloitte, Capgemini, PA Consulting, Accenture, Ernst & Young, Bain & Company and Finyx.
Most of the companies secured contracts between February and June 2019 to provide business and management consultancy to Brexit projects over a 12-month period – with the option to extend for a further 12 or 24 months.
Having been extended, the contracts were amended to open them up to Covid-19 focused work through an exchange of correspondence at the end of March.
An associate commercial specialist on the CCS’s EU exit consultancy team wrote to the companies, asking them to confirm the change in writing.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "In preparing for the UK to make an orderly exit from the European Union, we equipped ourselves with the right people and the right skills. It is long-established practice to draw on the advice of external specialists via contracts such as these.
"We have also ensured we have access to the skills and expertise we need to deliver the challenging agenda of public health and policy interventions to support individuals and businesses through the pandemic and recovery."