In May, we announced an immediate freeze on the use of consultants. Where there is an operational necessity and the work cannot be carried out by in-house staff, any new consultancy spend above £20,000 a month must be signed off by a Minister. In addition, all consultancy spend, whether pre-existing or newly approved, must be re-approved on a rolling basis every three months. Processes are now in place whereby both my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and I must personally approve any request to employ a consultant beyond nine months.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Has he considered the fact that by reducing the use of consultants, we will be able to help public servants to develop their own careers more successfully, and that that will have the added advantage of protecting jobs, because we can keep the work with them rather than putting it out to consultants?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The excessive use of consultants—we discovered that there were 2,500 consultants embedded in Whitehall across Government—is not only expensive and a wasteful use of money but demoralising for mainstream civil servants, who feel that they are undervalued. By cutting back on the use of consultants we can begin to re-equip the mainstream civil service with the professional skills that it wants.
Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will not employ any consultants at all on the experimental free market schools strategy at the Department for Education? I am sure I heard a rumour that the Government had paid half a million pounds to the New Schools Network.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if there are any consultants being used, that will have been signed off personally by a Minister in the Department for Education and will be made public online shortly. He should address his question to my colleagues in that Department and scan the website for notification.