NAO: Government spends millions of pounds on Brexit consultancy services

7 Jun 19

The government spent at least £97m on Brexit consultancy services in the last financial year - but has failed to be fully transparent with costs, the spending watchdog has found.

A National Audit Office investigation, published today, revealed Cabinet Office information showed that £65m had been spent or agreed to be spent on consultancy services for Brexit between April 2018 and April 2019. But the NAO later reviewed information held by the Crown Commercial Services, which showed an additional £32m.

Cabinet Office analysis of invoices on Brexit consultants categorised as ‘consultancy’ showed overall expenditure of £1.5bn in 2017-18 and included other professional services – not just for Brexit. In 2015-16 the figure was £0.5bn.

Yet the figures for consultancy cost reported in the department’s separate annual reports were £332m for 2017-18 compared with £134m for 2015-16.

The department informed the NAO that it was “working to understand these differences”.

Many departments also failed to meet transparency targets for government procurement as set by the CCS. The CCS says departments must publish “basic information” about awarded contracts within 90 calendar days.

The average time taken to publish was 119 for EU exit contracts, compared to 82 days for other consultancy contracts.

The NAO report said: “Departments have not met the standards of transparency expected by government when publishing details of contracts for EU Exit consultancy.”

Just six consultancy firms received 96% of EU exit work from the Cabinet Office, including: Deloitte (22%), PA Consulting (19%), PwC (18%), Ernst & Young (15%), Bain & Company (11%) and Boston Consulting Group (10%).

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The lack of transparency around Brexit preparations that my committee has become all too familiar with applies to the use of these consultants.

“It is not good enough that some departments are failing to publish even basic information about their contracts and that the Cabinet Office does not know how much is being spent across government.

“The Cabinet Office must ensure that departments’ use of consultants, and the money spent, is fully open to public scrutiny.”

A government spokesperson said: “It is often more cost-efficient to draw upon the advice of external specialists for short-term projects requiring specialist skills.

“These include EU exit priorities, such as ensuring the uninterrupted supply of medical products and food to the UK.”

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