In Brief

Government spent £56m on consultants during pandemic

16 private firms have received several multi-million pound contracts

The government handed out £56m of taxpayers’s money to consultancy companies working on the UK’s coronavirus response, leaked documents have shown.

Unpublished contracts seen by The Guardian and openDemocracy, along with many contained within public registers, together reveal the scale of Whitehall’s spending on firms such as Ernst & Young, PwC and Boston Consulting Group, which can charge thousands of pounds a day for their services.

McKinsey, another consultancy firm hired by government staff, was paid £563,400 to determine the “vision, purpose and narrative” of a new public health body to replace the heavily-criticised Public Health England, the Financial Times reports. The work, which lasted six weeks, cost £14,000 a day.

The company worked with three members of the government’s coronavirus response team, including Dido Harding, the former TalkTalk boss who will lead the new agency. Harding is herself a former McKinsey consultant.

Rival consulancy company Deloitte, which was appointed to manage PPE procurement, made a series of “administrative errors” and was responsible for delays in providing testing kits, according to The Guardian.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “All contracts have been awarded in line with procurement regulations, which allows for contracts to be awarded directly in exceptional circumstances such as a global pandemic.”

However, critics of the system say the problems extend beyond the current crisis.

“As numbers in the civil service have been significantly cut back in recent years, we have seen government departments rely more and more on consultants,” said Tom Sasse, a researcher at the Institute for Government. “It is not always clear that these consultants are being used well or where they can add value.”

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