Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ceisteanna (8)

Pádraig MacLochlainn


8. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide details and the projected monetary value of the savings in consultancy contracts his Department expects to make. [29565/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

My Department was established in 2011. A large part of the work of my Department is associated with the reform agenda plan and, as such, we have a rolling programme of work which will vary from year to year and require varying degrees of external consulting support. In the current year, this includes a number of shared services projects, in payroll, in banking, in financial management reporting and in procurement, together with work on the statute law revision project, support for the implementation of procurement reform and the re-tendering of the national lottery licence.

In the context of this environment, a targeted percentage cost-base reduction is not an appropriate approach to budgeting. We have instead adopted a zero-based budgeting approach to consultancy costs.

In other words, provision is only made for defined projects which have the Government's approval. We continue to seek to minimise these costs and projects, and projects are only progressed when there is a clear business case to do so.

In the Haddington Road agreement we just discussed, there is a paragraph on the use of external consultants by public bodies which states:

The staff side have expressed considerable concern at what they believe to be excessive use of external consultants in the public service. The Government, for its part, shares these concerns ... The recent procurement reform programme to achieve between €250 million to €600 million of savings is welcomed. It is expected that savings in consultancy contracts will be a key element of this programme.

As it is obviously envisaged that this will be a substantial chunk of the savings, will the Minister shed some light on them? What is the total annual cost of external consultants to the public service?

I do not have that figure with me and the Deputy should table a question on the matter. To get a figure would mean trawling across all Departments and well beyond my own Department or area of responsibility. If the Deputy tables a question, I will see what we can do to get that figure.

There was a tendency, which may sometimes have been a default position, to have consultants do work rather than line Departments, but in so far as it is practicable, we should have line Departments do the work. Often when complicated work is being done, we may need particular expertise that does not exist in the public service and we have to buy it in. I am trying to have an economics evaluation service within the public service, and we recruited last year a range of young economic graduates trained in my Department who will be allocated across line Departments to provide expertise. There are other skill sets required in the public service that should be recruited and embedded on a permanent basis and I hope, over time, that will mitigate the need to hire consultants. There will always be some issues so we should consider matters case by case. Where there is a robust business case to engage consultants, we will continue to hire them.

My intention is not to enter into a debate on the merits or otherwise of the use of consultants but very substantial savings are envisaged in the order of €250 million to €600 million, according to the agreement. It is also indicated in black and white that savings in consultancy contracts would be a key element of the programme, and the Minister does not contend the fact. I am very surprised that the Minister does not have a figure for the overall cost of consultancy services across the public sector. Is it just that the Minister does not have the figure with him or has the figure not been calculated? I cannot imagine how a Minister could argue that a substantial chunk of the savings would come from consultancy contracts if he has not established the cost of those consultancies across all Departments.

As I indicated, it is not a uniform annual sum and much depends on what issues are being dealt with each year. Last year we hired consultants and, for example, Accenture examined procurement generally across the public service. The report was published and it indicated a sum of between €200 million and €600 million that could be saved through better procurement. Part of that procurement will be in the consultancy area, although we will make savings in other areas of procurement as well.

If I were to ask a parliamentary question citing a particular year, would the Minister be in a position to provide us with the figures?

I will do my very best.