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Civil Service: External Consultants

Volume 732: debated on Thursday 11 May 2023

3. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the use of external consultants by the civil service. (904851)

My focus is on ensuring that the civil service has enhanced skills to provide all forms of advice where appropriate. However, there is also a role, as there is for other Governments and the private sector, for specialist expertise. Where this represents good value for money in delivering for the taxpayer, we will use it.

But with thousands of civil servants—hard-working, experienced civil servants—in the Public and Commercial Services Union having to strike for a fair pay deal themselves, how can the Minister justify hiring expensive consultants instead of using the in-house expertise that there evidently is across our wonderful civil service?

We do make use of that expertise. I am keen to see civil servants providing advice across the full remit of their capabilities. Embedded in civil service learning are modules about consultancy, and we ensure that we use civil servants where appropriate in that area. However, there is a role for specialist consultants and specialist expertise. That can add value for the taxpayer. I used to be the Minister for Defence Procurement, and we would not have ship designers employed in the civil service when there are real specialists out there who are up to date and effective. There will always be a role for expertise that comes from outside Government, as well as using the brilliant expertise of our civil servants themselves.

I agree with the Minister that there is a role for consultants, but the spending on consultants is spiralling out of control. After the scandal of spending waste on personal protective equipment the Government have not taken the action needed. Consultants cost twice as much as a civil servant, yet spending on consultants has been spiralling. The Paymaster General lifted controls on private contracts and on reporting them in February. The Cabinet Office itself is one of the worst offenders for spending on consultants, and Ministers are not enforcing public reporting of departmental spending so that we can find out how much is being spent on consultants, with the Treasury itself being one of the worst examples. Will the Minister commit to cutting the millions spent on consultants where they are not needed and where we can use civil servants instead, and to getting a grip on wasteful Government spending?

I will always endeavour to ensure that no consultant is ever employed where they are “not needed”, to quote the hon. Lady. We always ensure that we use the propositions that represent best value for money —that has to be the basis on which we operate, and we will continue to do so. I remind the hon. Lady that we managed to secure £3.4 billion of efficiency savings across Government last year. We did that by focusing on costs and making certain that we drove them down. We will continue to do so, and we are committed to ensuring that we get best value for the taxpayer.