Civil Service: Consultants likely to stay in work

Efforts to slash the amount of taxpayers' money spent on consultants are likely to be undermined by cuts to civil service training, a Commons spending watchdog said yesterday.

The cross-party public accounts committee said the unprecedented financial squeeze on Whitehall departments could result in "uninformed" short-term savings.

Ministers have been swift to hail a 350m year-on-year reduction in the consultancy bill as a victory in tackling the previous administration's "incontinent" use of outside experts.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told MPs last month that civil servants were more than capable and willing to do the job and often felt undermined when expertise was brought in.

But the committee said progress in developing necessary in-house skills had been "far too slow", leaving a serious shortage that would be made worse by cuts.

It expressed particular concerns about the impact after the head of the Civil Service conceded there would be a "resurgence" in demand for such expertise in the coming years.

The MPs also called for more contracts to be let on a fixed-price basis to prevent consultants deliberately slowing down their work to command higher fees,

At present, 70 per cent are paid by time spent on the project.

And they demanded better monitoring of the value for money obtained from the use of consultants, rejecting Cabinet Office claims it was impossible to measure.