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External Consultants

Volume 403: debated on Monday 7 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) pursuant to his answer of 31 March 2003, Official Report, column 598W, on external consultants, what the total cost of external consultants was to his Department and its predecessors in each of the last four financial years for which figures are available; [107433](2) pursuant to his answer of 31 March 2003.

Official Report, column 598W, on external consultants, if he will list the 10 contracts with the largest value awarded to external consultants by his Department since it was established, giving the (a) value of the contract and (b) firm in each case; [107434]

(3) pursuant to his answer of 31 March 2003, Official Report, column 598W, on external consultants, what his estimate is of the cost involved in answering the hon. Member for North East Hertfordshire's question; how this was arrived at; and if he will make a statement on the reasons for the time it took to reach the conclusion that answering the question would incur significant disproportionate cost. [107435]

The accounting systems that record payments to organisations that supply consultancy and other professional services to DWP are not able to provide disaggregated figures in the level of detail required, without encountering significant disproportionate cost. Such information is as follows:The total cost to DWP of the use of external consultants and professional services in the 2001–02 financial year was £169.494 million. DWP accounting systems do not currently allow us to reliably disaggregate expenditure by contract under this heading, so this figure does not solely reflect expenditure on consultancy. The Department is in the process of introducing systems which should rectify this problem (a legacy of the creation of the Department in 2001 and of the Department of Social Security and Employment Service Accounting Systems) and allow us to record this data more accurately in future.The former DSS spend, prior to creation of DWP in 2001, on external consultancy and professional services was:

1998–99 £72.34 million: (£79.30 million at present 2002–03 value)
1999–2000 £83.00 million: (£88.83 million at present 2002–03 value)
2000–01 £104.73 million: (£109.66 million at present 2002–03 value)

The increase in expenditure in this area is due to the widespread modernisation programme currently underway in DWP. Figures are not available for the spend under former ES and could be obtained only at significant disproportionate cost.

In attempting to provide information in response to the hon. Member's previous question, Official Report, column 598W, it emerged that there may be potential inaccuracies with the way in which the figures are recorded on the accounting systems. This was due, we believe, to the inability of DWPs current accounting system to disaggregate expenditure on consultancy and professional services by contract. Significant cost had already been incurred up to this stage and it was determined that further significant disproportionate cost would be incurred in attempting to provide the information requested by a manual reckoning of the input data.

We estimated that the cost of answering the hon. Members previous question will be in the region of £3,000–£5,000.