Central government's use of consultants and interims - Public Accounts Committee Contents

2    Skills available within government  

8. The Cabinet Office is not doing enough to grow government's core skills despite repeated recommendations by this Committee in its reports in 2002 and 2007[17], and despite the Cabinet Office's own study on using Consultants in 1994.[18] Since 2006, the reliance on consultants in two key areas - ICT and programme and project management - has increased from 50% to 60% of all spend on consultancy.[19] The Civil Service fast stream programme is now being used to help recruit people into these specialist areas, but it will take quite a long time to develop people from entering the scheme to filling senior positions.[20] Whilst departments endeavoured to fill senior management positions with permanent staff, the Cabinet Office believes government is at a competitive disadvantage as senior people can often earn significantly more in the private sector. [21] The Cabinet Office told us that graduate recruitment was also supplemented by hiring people directly with the skills required and it had achieved good success at persuading people to swap higher pay for the greater challenge of the public sector.[22]

9. The Cabinet Office acknowledged that progress in growing skills in these areas was not as fast as hoped because departments find it difficult to persuade staff to stay in programme and project management roles due to a preference for policy related work.[23] Similar programme and project management roles in the private sector allow new recruits to experience all aspects of the commercial and government sectors, alongside relatively rapid career progression, hence making it more difficult to attract these staff at junior levels into government.[24]

10. The Cabinet Office does not have good data on the experience of its key programme and project management staff, including Senior Responsible Owners. This has limited its ability to flexibly re-deploy people with these skills to the departments and programmes where they are most needed.[25] In addition, people with these skills often don't spend long enough in one post, or are moved to a job that doesn't use their skills.[26] The Cabinet Office explained that capability in programme and project management is not necessarily just about technical qualifications.[27] It told us that government is trying to increase its ability to redeploy staff across departments and slow down the movement of skilled staff from one job to the next, in order to get maximum use of the people it has internally.[28]

11. There is expected to be a big dip in expenditure on training and development due to the recent round of spending cuts.[29] The Cabinet Office admitted that during a period of financial restraint, this is one area likely to come under the most pressure. It explained that there were many changes in government that are going through the policy development stage. Once policies moved on to the implementation stage there would likely be a resurgence in the use of consultants.[30] The Cabinet Office accepted that it seemed sensible that there should be skills training prior to this phase to reduce the need for consultants.[31] At the time of the hearing, it was carrying out a review of learning and development to determine how much departments should invest in training and how best to deliver it.[32]

17   Q 1; Committee of Public Accounts Twenty-first Report of Session 2001-02, Better value for money from professional services, HC 309, conclusion 28; Committee of Public Accounts Thirty-first Report of Session 2006-07, Central government's use of consultants, HC 309, recommendation 7;  Back

18   The Government's use of External Consultants: An Efficiency Unit Scrutiny, Cabinet Office, 1994 Back

19   Qq 2 and 5: C&AG's Report, para 1.10 Back

20   Q 4 Back

21   Qq 59-62 Back

22   Q 131 Back

23   Q 99 Back

24   Q 59 Back

25   Qq 14 and 117 Back

26   Qq 99 and 100 Back

27   Q 119 Back

28   Q 51 and 100 Back

29   Qq 124 and 125 Back

30   Qq 48-51 Back

31   Q 125 Back

32   Q 124 Back

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Prepared 21 December 2010