Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Consultants in the dock again

So the Public Accounts Committee has found that of the £2bn + of public money being invested in the services of the consulting industry, around £500 million a year is being needlessly spent. If this is really the case, it seems staggering to me that consulting firms feel the full force of the resulting outcry. Surely if government mandarins squander 1/4 of all tax revenues entrusted to them, it is they that should be in the dock. If they'd spent this money jetting public sector workers around the world to watch every Formula 1 race in the calendar, it would be government rather than Formula 1 bosses in the dock.

Yet this is the peculiar way in which the media report on anything to do with the consulting industry. Conveniently overlooking the fact that these public sector contracts are not hugely lucrative (witness the low profit margins of public sector practices) and can be very risky (think back to the NHS NPfIT programme for an example of consulting firms getting burnt on public sector assignments). Instead we are greeted with headlines like the following and the blame is effortlessly shifted away from those who are truly culpable:

Anger as government pays £63 a second to consultants (The Scotsman)
Labour blows £2 billion-a-year on army of Whitehall advisers (Evening Standard)

Now of course there are examples of consulting projects that have failed to deliver - and a whole raft of reasons for such failures. But to suggest that the majority of this spend has yielded no return to the taxpayer is just farcical.

We are, it seems, doomed to a perception with the public that's just marginally above that of an estate agent or used car salesperson...

Tony Restell

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