The government has been criticised for high spending on consultants © Tara Moore/Getty Images
The government has been criticised for high spending on consultants © Tara Moore/Getty Images

What does the Consultancy Playbook mean for public buyers?

The UK government has launched a new ‘Consultancy Playbook’ with the aim of “achieving better outcomes, value for money and improved civil service capability”.

The playbook, developed by the Government Commercial Function (GCF) in collaboration with the Government Consulting Hub, will enable public bodies to achieve more favourable outcomes and understand when consultants can add most value.

“While consultancies can help solve some of our most complex problems, they come with high associated costs. Consultants can offer us access to wide ranging and valuable expertise, but we should recognise we get the best results when we commission them to solve specific problems,” the playbook said. 

The guidance applies to all central government departments and their arm’s length bodies, and should be considered by local authorities and the wider public sector, the GCF said. 

The playbook is focused on getting consultancy engagements right from the start and ensuring consultants are used in the right instances to solve specific problems, “avoiding over-reliance on external support”. 

“This approach will deliver both value for money and better quality projects and public services for the citizens that use and rely on them,” it said.

The playbook focuses on three key areas:

1. How to get things “right at the start” by considering which delivery model is best suited for requirements and understanding when consultancy services can add the most value. 

2. How to structure procurements “to allow the market to offer effective and innovative solutions to problems” and the key principles to consider throughout the process to drive best practice.

3. Maximising value through consultancy engagements “from pre-procurement to contract exit” and how this can be achieved by being a more effective client and ensuring knowledge generation and transfer.

The government has previously come under fire for its use of highly-paid consultants, especially through both the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit preparations

Last year, the Public Accounts Committee said the government was “too quick to spend money on consultants to undertake work that could actually be better done by existing civil servants”. 

Meanwhile, the government has rebranded its Outsourcing Playbook, launched in 2019, as the ‘Sourcing Playbook’, a move which it said would “better reflect our policy of choosing the appropriate approach to delivery models to deliver high-quality public services”.

Separately, the UK government published a new Procurement Policy Note on applying exclusions and preventing, identifying and remedying conflicts of interest in public procurement.

The note said: “Government has taken significant steps to strengthen its commercial capability, especially in procurement so that commercial activities deliver value for money and risks are managed. We have strong systems in place to detect and tackle corruption, but ongoing efforts are needed to maintain our capability in both central and local government.”

The note outlined a framework to be adopted by in-scope organisations to “prevent, identify, record and remedy conflicts of interest”. 

“The framework includes the relevant processes, procedures, and appropriate checks and balances to effectively manage conflicts of interest in a commercial context. Whilst the guidance is targeted at commercial and procurement professionals within the in-scope organisations, it also includes points of note for others outside the commercial team, including ministers and special advisers,” it said. 

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