UK government departments have spent £97m in consultancy fees in preparation for leaving the EU, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
The NAO said spend on consultancy services related to Brexit were £32m higher than the Cabinet Office (CO) had disclosed.
CO data showed a spend of £65m between April 2018 and April 2019 but data held by government departments and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) showed a total of £97m.
The additional spend was largely related to contracts which were awarded before the CO put in place a process to provide support to departments in need of consultancy services in April 2018.
The NAO criticised the government’s “lack of transparency” surrounding the contracts and its failure to publish contract details in a timely fashion.
The government took on average 119 days to publish basic details on Brexit-related consultancy contracts, compared to an average of 82 days for other consultancy contracts.
This was despite CCS guidance which said the award of contracts should be published within 90 calendar days.
Some contracts had not been published at all and many that were published had been significantly redacted, the NAO said.
It continued: “Departments have not met the standards of transparency expected by government when publishing details of contracts for EU Exit consultancy”.
Money had been spent on consultants to fill specific skills gaps and to meet immediate staffing needs within government departments, the NAO said.
It said: “Preparing for the UK’s exit from the EU has been a significant challenge for departments and has required skills such as project delivery and commercial skills that are in short supply.”
Following the referendum in 2016, 12 out of 17 departments identified a ‘considerable’ or ‘significant’ impact to their capability posed by Brexit in areas such as policy, operational and specialist skill areas.
Six consultancy firms had received 96% of EU exit work from the government including Deloitte (22% of value), PA Consulting (19%), PricewaterhouseCoopers (18%), Ernst & Young (15%), Bain & Company (11%) and Boston Consulting Group (10%).
Most individual pieces of work ran for less than three months, but these have been regularly extended. Extensions peaked in April 2019 due to the change in date for the UK to leave the EU, the NAO said.
It said: "Departments continue to prepare for EU Exit and total spending on consultancy support will rise."
Last month, research showed the government had spent an extra £160m on Brexit related contracts for support including consultancy, accounting, auditing, IT and management services.