UK spending on coronavirus consultants tops £100m

UK spending on coronavirus consultants tops £100m

Some of the most lucrative contracts received by firms such as PwC and Deloitte since the pandemic began

Since the onset of the pandemic, the government has spent tens of millions of pounds on management consultants to help it manage elements of the Covid-19 response, from the much-criticised NHS test-and-trace programme to buying PPE.

The UK’s largest consulting firms have been paid more than £100m to advise the government on its response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a string of delayed disclosures from Whitehall in recent weeks.

A huge amount of public money has been spent on consultation, a number of the consulting contracts have also come under fire over the services provided.

The Finacial Times reported a total of 106 contracts worth £109m have been agreed between various government departments and consulting firms such as PwC, Deloitte and McKinsey since March, as civil servants scrambled for support to source personal protective equipment, set up test and trace programmes and acquire thousands of new ventilators as the pandemic gathered pace.

The contracts, which have been analysed by research firm Tussell, are the first significant public catalogue of government spending on consultants during the pandemic. Some of the contracts have remained private for as long as three months, despite government procurement rules that state a contract award notice must be published within 30 days.

Deloitte was appointed to manage PPE procurement for hospitals and supporting testing sites, but was criticised for a series of administrative errors and delays in providing kit. Others questioned the value of a £560,000 contract with McKinsey to advise on the “vision, purpose and narrative” of England’s testing programme.

“If there’s no transparency or accountability on the huge sums of public money involved in the Covid response, the public can’t have confidence in what the government is doing.

Dozens of consultancy firms have been at the heart of the government’s strategy to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, the contracts showed.

PwC, the UK’s largest accounting and advisory firm, has been the largest single supplier of consulting services during the crisis.

It was handed 11 contracts worth almost £21m, including to advise the British Business Bank on its coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. PA Consulting, a London firm owned by private equity group Carlyle, was awarded four contracts worth £18.3m, with the bulk of its work advising on the Ventilator Challenge project.

The majority of the deals were done under emergency procurement rules brought in during the crisis, which allowed contracts to be awarded directly to suppliers without a competitive tender process.

Public First, two of the firm’s directors both previously worked for Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister.

The new rules allowed for rapid outsourcing of work from stretched departments during the pandemic, but have attracted criticism after a number of cases where work was handed to companies with ties to politicians.

Public First, a policy consulting firm, was handed three contracts worth a combined £1m, including one that said its job was to help ministers “lock in the lessons of the Covid-19 crisis”. These arrangements have been scrutinised because two of the firm’s directors both previously worked for Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister.

The Cabinet Office said: “Public First has been awarded contracts because of its wealth of experience. We have a number of suppliers for work on government research, of which Public First is just one.”

Even more has been spent since then, in what has become a fee-earning bonanza for some of the world’s largest professional services firms.

Here are some of the most lucrative contracts picked up by management consultants.

  • Deloitte won a £6.7m contract to help the government buy equipment for intensive care units, including mechanical ventilators
  • The same company earned £3m for providing the Cabinet Office with “general management consultancy services” related to the pandemic
  • The Department of Health paid Deloitte £2.2m for help with buying PPE too
  • Rival PwC picked up £3m from the Cabinet Office for financial analysis
  • It also won a £2.5m contract from the Treasury for general consultancy and research
  • PwC also has a £1.4m contract from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to help run a £200m emergency coronavirus fund for small charities struggling to raise funds
  • KPMG is helping the Department of Work & Pensions with the National Shielding Programme, via a contract worth £650,000
  • Multiple contracts have gone to US-based firm McKinsey, including one from the Department of Health for “troubleshooting” in the government’s Covid-19 data analysis
  • The consultancy has also signed up to provide £308,000 of advice on the impact of the pandemic on social care
  • McKinsey has given £380,000 worth of advice to the Treasury on how various business sectors have been affected
  • The Department of Health has agreed to pay McKinsey £307,000 to model scenarios for how Covid-19 will develop in autumn and winter
  • McKinsey also has a £291,000 contract and Deloitte one for £521,000 to look at how to re-use old PPE
  • Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has grabbed some of the biggest contracts, including £5m to provide digital support for the NHS test-and-trace programme
  • BCG also won £458,000 of Covid-support work from Defra and £355,000 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to help with its own test and trace role
  • EY was awarded two £400,000 contracts to manage publicity around the programme to track and trace people who are potentially infected, and to improve the purchase of PPE.
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