The report, requested by the Committee of Public Accounts, found that departments had – up to April this year – spent at least £97m with firms including Deloitte, PwC and EY for consultancy on exiting the European Union.
Since 2010, the Cabinet Office has tried to reduce spending within central government by challenging organisations to only use consultants where necessary, on a short-term basis and for outside the “business-as-usual” environment. Brexit has proved to be such an example.
The NAO report says that in 2018 the Cabinet Office and other departments were concerned that they would not be able to make sufficient progress in their EU exit work because of difficulties in securing the required expertise, including project delivery and commercial skills.
The Cabinet Office put in place a process designed to allow departments to access a range of consultancy support more quickly and with less effort than other procurement routes.
Six consultancy firms have received 96% of EU exit work under the Cabinet Office arrangement.
These were by value: Deloitte (22%); PA Consulting (19%); PwC (18%); EY (15%); Bain & Company (11%); and Boston Consulting Group (10%). The consultants were busiest around April 2019 following the extensions of Article 50 and the changes to the date when the UK is expected to leave the EU.
The Big Four firms were mostly used to provide “strategic programme management consultancy services for EU exit programmes”, although PwC was also a primary supplier on the “mobilise, manage and deliver” contract, which runs until February 2020 and can be extended.
As part of its consultancy work on the EU exit, EY examined the Home Office’s supply chains to identify where its operations depend on supplies from the EU.
On PwC’s part, it designed and delivered communications about the EU exit settlement scheme for EU nationals living in the UK for the Home Office.
Meanwhile Deloitte advised the Department for Transport on its procurement of additional freight capacity and the financial quality of bids made by ferry companies.
Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said, “The lack of transparency around Brexit preparations that my committee has become all too familiar with applies to the use of these consultants.
“The Cabinet Office must ensure that departments’ use of consultants, and the money spent, is fully open to public scrutiny,” she added.