Deloitte racks up largest share of government’s Brexit consultancy spend

Government departments have spent at least £97m on Brexit consultancy work in the last 12 months, with almost a quarter (22%) of the business going to Big Four firm Deloitte, while PwC and EY have also picked up substantial consulting contracts

Six consulting firms took the lion’s share of business, and while Deloitte earned the most fees from Brexit-related government contracts, PwC, EY, PA Consulting, Bain & Company, and Boston Consulting Group were all vying for contracts, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

The audit watchdog’s analysis to year end April 2019 shows these six consultancy firms received 96% of EU Exit work under the Cabinet Office arrangements. The Cabinet Office contracted with nine consultancy firms to provide services to departments for the first year of the call-off arrangement.

The six were the primary suppliers, to which the Cabinet Office allocated most of the work, by value: Deloitte (22%); PA Consulting (19%); PwC (18%); E&Y (15%); Bain & Company (11%); and Boston Consulting Group (10%).

Of the Big Four, Deloitte collected £14.3m, while PwC received £11.8m and EY was paid £9.8m.  KPMG did not feature on the primary suppliers’ list but was given work as a secondary supplier, although this is not quantified.

Among other activities, the Cabinet Office used PwC between June 2018 and June 2019 to provide support services to the team within Cabinet Office that supports departments to deliver their EU exit work. The Cabinet Office used Deloitte from December 2018 until at least March 2019 to provide additional expertise in resilience planning across government.

Most individual pieces of work with consultants (68%) ran for less than three months, but departments have regularly extended these; 43% of engagements with consultants have been extended at least once. There was a peak in extensions in April 2019, following the extensions of Article 50 and the changes in the date when the UK is expected to leave the EU. Departments continue to prepare for EU Exit and total spending on consultancy support will rise, the NAO says.

Its report is critical of departments for failing to meet the standards of transparency expected by government when publishing details of contracts for EU Exit consultancy. While it is recommended that departments publish basic information about the award of contracts within 90 calendar days, the NAO found that it has taken on average 119 days for basic details of EU exit consultancy contracts to be published, compared with 82 days for all consultancy contracts.

 In its review of Brexit consultancy contracts the NAO found that some had not been published as recommended and all that had been published were significantly redacted. While Cabinet Office information shows that £6m had been spent or agreed to be spent on Brexit-related consultancy services, the NAO reviewed data held by a sample of four departments and by the Crown Commercial Service and found an additional £32m consultancy expenditure. This largely relates to contracts entered into before Cabinet Office began offering support to departments requiring consultancy support, and contracts with consultancy firms that departments are not able to access through the Cabinet Office arrangement.

The NAO notes: ‘The amounts spent by departments before April 2018 are particularly uncertain as Cabinet Office had little oversight of this type of expenditure before it put in place its arrangement for accessing consultancy services.’

Around one quarter of the consultancy services accessed through the Cabinet Office provided project and programme management support. Consultants have also been used for departments’ planning and development work, in some cases where the time available has constrained departments’ ability to recruit or train civil servants to carry out that work. Almost one third of the support accessed through the Cabinet Office relates to developing departments’ preparations, and in particular planning for if the UK left the EU without a deal.

NAO report, Departments’ use of consultants to support preparations for EU Exit

Pat Sweet

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