Consultants given verbal bashing by the government, but what's the alternative view?

At the government’s procurement conference last week, Crown and suppliers: A new way of working, consultants were given a real verbal bashing.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, talked about the need for departments to get his specific permission before hiring consultants on procurement projects.

He said: “Too often in the past we have fallen into our comfort zone and hired consultants for procurement. But consultants that are paid on day rates have no desire to do procurement quickly.”
HMRC CIO Phil Pavitt was similarly critical of much of the work of consultants. “Why should we pay consultants to give us our own ideas back, bound in leather?” he said.

I spoke to a consultant, who I know has worked extensively in central government, to get his opinion.

He said there is quite a lot of unpaid consultancy going on at the moment as firms want to keep close to the government.

He said there has unquestionable been lots of money wasted on consultancies by the government but he said they really do offer the government significant benefits in certain instances.

“There is a real need at times for good advice from consultancies for specific types of work, where the skills add value.”

He said if the government is doing a large one off project it would benefit from using consultants who have done similar projects in the past. “The consultancies do it every day of their lives.” This makes it quicker and removes costs for the government.

But he said money is often wasted when the government uses consultancies to do procurements that are actually repeatable with generic skills. He said the government should learn to do these internally.

So I asked him what he thought about Intellect being used to give public sector procurers more commercial and technical skills. He said: “I don’t think this will work because Intellect doesn’t really have the skill required.”

Martyn Hart, chairman at the National Outsourcing Association, also criticised the Intellect potential role.   “Although the NOA welcomes the government sourcing advice around improving its commercial and technical skills, it has concerns about using Intellect exclusively. Theirs is an IT supplier-only community, lacking the balanced opinions that having end-users and intermediaries involved brings. The government is likely to seek bigger savings in the business process arena than IT, so are Intellect the right people to offer the best advice?”

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