The UK National Audit Office (NAO) has published its investigation into the use of consultants by government departments to support preparations for Brexit. By April 2019, the government had spent at least £97 million on Brexit consultancy. Three of the big four accountancy firms account for 55% of the consultancy spend by value.
Cabinet Office information shows that £65 million had been spent or agreed to be spent on consultancy services in the year to April 2019. The NAO reviewed data held by a sample of four departments and by the Crown Commercial Service and found an additional £32 million in Brexit consultancy expenditure.
Six consultancy firms have received 96% of Brexit work under the Cabinet Office arrangement. These were by value: Deloitte (22%); PA Consulting (19%); PWC (18%); EY (15%); Bain & Company (11%); and Boston Consulting Group (10%). Most individual pieces of work with consultants ran for less than three months, but government departments have regularly extended these, with a peak in extensions in April 2019, following the extensions of Article 50 and the changes to the date when the UK is expected to leave the EU (43% of engagements organised by the Cabinet Office have been renewed at least once). Total spend on consultancy support will continue to rise, said the NAO.
Five departments account for most Brexit consultancy organised by the Cabinet Office. These are: Cabinet Office; Home Office; Border Delivery Group; Department of Health & Social Care; and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Cabinet Office analysis found that overall spending on consultancy services has increased since 2015-16 from £0.5 billion to £1.5 billion in 2017-18. However, the figures reported in departments’ annual reports for consultancy costs totalled £332 million for 2017-18, compared with £134 million for 2015-16. The Cabinet Office has informed the NAO that it is working to understand these differences and iss planning to review trends in departments’ spending on consultancy and other professional services.
The NAO found that departments have not met the standards of transparency expected by government when publishing details of contracts for Brxit consultancy. In December 2017, the Crown Commercial Service issued guidance to encourage greater transparency in government procurement. It recommended that departments publish basic information about the award of contracts within 90 calendar days.
However, the NAO found that it has taken on average 119 days for basic details of Brexit consultancy contracts to be published, compared to 82 days for all consultancy contracts. The NAO also found that in its review of contracts for Brexit consultancy that some had not been published as recommended, and all that had been published were significantly redacted.