Ceisteanna — Questions. - Consultancy Contracts.

John Bruton

Ceist:

2 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the number of external consultants engaged on projects for his Department and agencies or committees that come under the aegis of his Department. [14417/98]

There are 17 consultants engaged by my Department and the bodies under its aegis. Six of these relate to my Department and 11 relate to the bodies under its aegis.

Does the Taoiseach need all these consultants?

Six consultants are working in my Department. I am sure this question is motivated by the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, who examined consultancies engaged by Departments from 1994 to the end of 1996. I welcome the report as a very useful study on the use of external consultants. It highlights the need for Departments to focus on the issues involved in engaging consultants and obtaining the best value for money.

In many cases, consultancies are done because people are second-guessing or those in the Department do not have the expertise. Consultancies are quite costly, as we have seen from the report. The Committee of Public Accounts will examine the findings of the report this month and the Secretary General of the Department of Finance will also bring forward proposals. The Department of Finance is committed to taking on board the recommendations in relation to the guidelines, which it will issue to consultancies in the future. We should be slower to engage consultants because it is quite costly.

Does the Taoiseach agree that much of the time consultants are employed by Departments which already know what should be done but do not have the courage to make the decision and want somebody else to tell them?

That might be the case. My objection to consultancy reports is slightly different in that when they report, they do not give clear recommendations and too often they say either on the one hand or the other hand.

That is fair too.

When one studies the recommendations, one almost needs another consultant to explain them. It would be better if conclusions were reached. Sometimes it would be as quick if an official or somebody else drew up a report. Over the years we have built up a type of consultants fever in that we tend to act on the recommendations of consultants rather than on those of good, sane people in the public service.

I have tried to avoid bringing in too many consultants. Yesterday, I defended a good report on consultants involved in a CD-ROM project in the Office of the Attorney General. I congratulate them on the work they are doing. Sometimes consultants are needed to do a job. It is more beneficial when consultants are employed to do a job and bring something to a conclusion rather than simply second-guess people and issue a report. The brief I read the other night would suggest some of this type of information is extremely costly.

I agree. Does the Taoiseach agree that as long as there is adequate transparency there is often no good substitute for an old fashioned political decision and that frequently the resort to consultants occurs because there is an unwillingness for whatever reason — this can occur in all Administrations — to make the political call? Does the Taoiseach agree that is the most constructive conclusion to be drawn from the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General?

I accept that but as Deputy Bruton knows as well as I do, the good old-fashioned political calls made some years ago were different from those made today. If one makes a political call today, one would probably find oneself before a tribunal.

It depends on the nature of the political call. We are elected to make those calls.

I accept that.

Does one of the 17 consultancies engaged by the Taoiseach's Department relate to a review of the Navy and Air Corps? When will that report be available given that it is nearly two years since these people were appointed? Is he aware the initial soundings from the report were totally contrary to what they were asked to do in the first place? Will he assure us that fees will not be paid because of inefficiency in this matter and that fees will only be paid in respect of the work which was requested of these people? Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the efficiency audit group is the right body to engage consultants in such cases? Should it not be done directly by the Department in question which has more expertise to offer?

I do not know the history of this matter——

The Taoiseach would have a fair idea, as would the Minister beside him.

——Deputy Barrett was Minister for Defence around that time so he will remember why he undertook this task. On the question, I understand the report will leave my Department, if it has not already left, and go to Government shortly. The reason a second study was carried out was that it was felt the first one was not comprehensive enough.

It did not address the issues.

It did not address the issues comprehensively and it was necessary to carry out a second study.

I ask that the matter be examined. Double fees should not be paid.

I will raise that.

Will the Price Waterhouse report on the Army and the Air Corps be published before the end of the month?