Bill for Brexit preparation consultants nears £100 million

Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington speaking in the House of Commons (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire)

Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington speaking in the House of Commons (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire)

The bill for consultants helping with Brexit preparations has already topped £97 million, a report from the National Audit Office has claimed.

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Cabinet Office figures showed £65 million was spent on consultants in the year to April 2019 - but the National Audit Office (NAO) estimated the total costs from Brexit-related consultancy to be 50% higher after a review.

The NAO investigation uncovered an additional £32 million in Brexit consultancy expenditure by government departments to April this year, including costs from the EU referendum until April 2018.

Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse's report sets out how "limitations in the data" used by the Cabinet Office "inhibit its ability to fully understand" and there was "little oversight" of departments' expenditure on Brexit-related consultancy before April 2018.

Sir Amyas said Cabinet Office was "working to understand the difference between the data sets" and would review spending, but added Brexit preparations had been a "significant challenge" for the government.

"Government has long-standing skill shortages in areas required for EU Exit, such as project delivery and commercial skills," he said.

"In summer 2016, following the EU referendum, 12 of the then 17 main departments had identified a 'considerable' or 'significant' impact to their capability in policy, operational and specialist skill areas."

About 25% of the consultancy work provided project and programme management support and another 33% related to no-deal preparations, the report said.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, Westminster's Public Accounts Committee chairwoman, said it was "not good enough" that the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for improving government efficiency, appeared to have lost track of 50% of the consultancy costs.

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She said: "The lack of transparency around Brexit preparations that my committee has become all too familiar with applies to the use of these consultants.

"It is not good enough that some departments are failing to publish even basic information about their contracts and that the Cabinet Office does not know how much is being spent across government.

"The Cabinet Office must ensure that departments' use of consultants, and the money spent, is fully open to public scrutiny."

The People's Vote campaign seperately found the Cabinet Office splurged a shocking £231 a minute (£10m) on Brexit consultancy in April alone.

Ben Bradshaw MP, former health minister and leading supporter of the People's Vote campaign said:

"This level of spending on consultants on Brexit is scandalous. Our schools are struggling, our hospitals understaffed, even the Home Secretary admitted at the weekend we don't have enough police, yet ministers are splashing the cash on consultants at an accelerating rate.

"We could have got a newly qualified nurse for a year for every two hours of consultancy spending in April.

"And unless we settle the crisis the spending will go on and on, well into the next decade as battle after battle over what Brexit means and how it should happen just goes on and on."Now we know what the Brexit mess is costing us, it's only fair and democratic that the people are asked to give the final say on whether it should go ahead."

A government spokesman defended the spending, which he said was "cost-efficient".

He said: "It is often more cost-efficient to draw upon the advice of external specialists for short-term projects requiring specialist skills.

"These include EU exit priorities such as ensuring the uninterrupted supply of medical products and food to the UK."

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