Whitehall ‘overly secretive’ on how it has spent £97 million on Brexit consultants

Anti-Brexit protesters outside the Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA.

Anti-Brexit protesters outside the Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Government departments are being 'overly secretive' about the £97 million it has spent on Brexit consultants, a parliament's financial watchdog has claimed.

The influential Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said departments had generally failed to meet the government's own transparency standards in regards to the spending.

The PAC reported that Whitehall had spent at least £97 million on consultancy firms in support of preparations for Brexit by April 2019.

MPs said there was "confusion" over how much is being spent, and that consultants had been used more for "thinking and planning rather than doing".

The PAC report stated: "Departments have been overly secretive about what the consultants are doing, as they have been before in providing information on other aspects of the Brexit preparations.

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"When departments have published information on consultancy work, usually later than they should have, they have failed to meet the government's own transparency standards.

"Departments took too long to publish information on the contracts being let, and some contracts were over-zealously redacted before publication."

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They expressed concern about the cabinet office's "overly relaxed" attitude towards almost all the work, 96%, going to only six firms.

The report states: "The cabinet office seems overly relaxed that 96% of the work by value has so far gone to just six large companies, despite its own aspirations for more government work to go to small and medium-sized enterprises.

"Too much of the work procured to date appears to have been focused on "thinking and shaping" rather than getting practical things done.

"This only compounds our concerns over the speed of preparations for Brexit across Whitehall."

"There is a widening gap between the cabinet office's analysis of data on overall spending on consultancy services, not just to support B

The PAC said that despite a Government guideline that basic details of EU exit consultancy contracts should be published within 90 days by departments, the average was 119 days, with some taking as long as 237 days to make details public.

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