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Black Dog Crisis Management Company

Volume 814: debated on Monday 11 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what were the reasons for the Home Office hiring the Black Dog crisis management company; and what processes were followed before the firm was engaged.

My Lords, I know that the House and the noble Baroness will not mind if I spend a few seconds in paying tribute to my colleague, friend and all-round wonderful man, the right honourable James Brokenshire MP. I have received messages from across the House and I know others will have done. I know that those will be a huge comfort to Cathy and his children.

To answer the Question, the company was engaged in November 2020 to provide external debriefing of a complex critical incident that had occurred in the context of migrant crossings of the channel. The company had supported the Home Office and other departments previously and was recognised for its subject matter expertise in the debriefing of complex critical incidents. The company was engaged directly as a single tender action for which justification was provided due to urgency.

I am certainly grateful to the Minister for that. I believe that I can speak for all of us on this side of the House in seconding those sentiments about James Brokenshire—a truly kind man and serious public servant.

To return to the question of crisis management in the Home Department, might it not be better for enhancing the reputation of the department to move away from private consultancy and to commission a public, statutory, judge-led inquiry into misogyny and the neglect of women in policing and the criminal justice system, in the light of the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard?

My Lords, I am sure that the terms of reference and the details of that inquiry will be laid out in due course, but I will certainly take the noble Baroness’s points back.

My Lords, the department is to be congratulated on seeking help in this area. I see from the organisation’s website that its specialist areas of expertise include

“providing consultancy support to help clients to understand the leadership roles, responsibilities and behaviours required for effective decision making.”

We hope that the department will make full use of this skill.

I thank the noble Lord for his point. The skills of the company were particularly useful in the context of the issue of the migrant crossings.

My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness regarding James Brokenshire. It is a very sad situation.

Are there no internal consultants anywhere in Whitehall who could have advised the Home Office, rather than it spending public money on private sector consultants? Or was the crisis so bad that it was beyond the ability of anybody in Whitehall?

My Lords, these issues are often dealt with internally. This incident was one of some complexity and was quite novel in its aspect. That was why the STA was sought.

Is that the only occasion on which this company has been used by the Home Office? What changes were made as a result of the investigative work that it carried out? How many other departments apart from the Home Office find it necessary to use Black Dog Crisis Management to get them out of a mess?

It is my understanding that this company has been engaged previously by the Home Office. I can get the noble Lord some stats on other government departments if he wishes.

My Lords, could the noble Baroness clarify this for me? If a company wants a government contract, is it better to have a friend in the Cabinet, to give a large donation to the Conservative Party, or both?

If the noble Baroness wants to give a donation to the Conservative Party, I am sure that it would be welcome. Government procurement is open and transparent and there are very strict rules around it.

My Lords, I have two questions. First, what skills deficiencies in the Home Office’s 16 directors and 277 senior managers persuaded the Secretary of State to award contracts to Black Dog Crisis Management, a company with £100 share capital and only one employee, who previously worked at the Cabinet Office? Secondly, when will these contracts be published in full?

My Lords, I understand that all direct awards are listed in the contracts finder area of GOV.UK. On skills, as I said, this was a particularly novel incident and that is why the STA, which is very restricted in its use, was used in this case.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti is right. The shocking daily revelations of the number of accusations of social misconduct against police officers, including rape, and the finding of the Met’s institutional obstruction of investigations into Daniel Morgan’s murder demand that any inquiry into the Sarah Everard murder should be a statutory inquiry.

On the original question, what was the complexity? The Home Office has 40,000 civil servants—half the size of the Army. What was it that compelled it to engage the services of a crisis management firm to deliver “debriefing exercises” for staff following incidents? Why did it have to call in the military to collect data on Afghan refugees living in hotels when it lost control of their numbers?

I fully support my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in announcing that the inquiry would take place. The details of that will be announced in due course. Among the complexities was the number of agencies involved. Of course, things such as the potential for danger to life are critical in these situations—as, indeed, is learning the lessons of such novel incidents.

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to James Brokenshire. I had the privilege of meeting him a couple of times and he truly was a lovely man. Public duty was always at the heart of everything he did. We pass our condolences on to his wife and family.

Like my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton, I had a look at the website of Black Dog. I thought that the “disaster response teambuilding” services and the “crisis leadership skills” would be ones for the Minister maybe to bring to the attention of her ministerial colleagues, in particular the Home Secretary.

My Lords, in the remaining time is it possible to ask the Minister to answer the questions that she has failed to answer—