Consulting sector expands 4.5% as industry supports clients to recover and build back from the pandemic and exports double 


  • Management consultancy growth rate for 2020 was 4.5% following an increase in client work in both the private and public sector following COVID-19, according to the latest MCA Annual Industry Report   
  • Exports have doubled, with significant growth outside Europe, as UK cements its position as a leading global consulting hub and delivers more services remotely 
  • 11% jump in female partners and senior consulting leaders with a third (32%) now making it into senior positions as the sector drives greater progress on diversity and inclusion  
  • As a result of the pandemic, over half of MCA member firms (57%) expect their organisation’s overall office workspace to decrease as hybrid working becomes more established 
  • MCA member firms estimate consultants will go into the office 2 or 3 times a week (36% and 42%), although this varies by size of firm with smaller firms expecting consultants to go in 2 days a week compared to medium and large firms who believe 3 days will be the norm 

 The UK consulting sector experienced growth of 4.5% in 2020 as it helped both public and private clients with a range of critical projects, according to the MCA Annual Industry Report 2021 from the Management Consultancies Association (MCA). Although overall growth was less than in previous years (7% in 2018 and 2019), small and medium sized consultancy firms experienced the largest expansion of work with growth rates up 33% and 35% respectively while larger firms saw an overall decline of -2%. Firms rapidly pivoted their services during the pandemic to respond to changing client demands and consultants specialising in digital transformation were in strong demand. The total value of the UK consulting sector, the second biggest in the world, is now estimated to be approximately £12.5 billion. The composition of the market has shifted slightly with medium sized firms now representing 19% of market share compared to 11% the previous year. Smaller consultancies also saw their market share double from 1% to 2% while the larger firms saw a decline in market share from 88% to 79%. The MCA forecast for 2021, following feedback from member firms, suggests growth in double digits as the consulting sector supports the economic recovery and businesses accelerate plans that were previously put on hold.  

 The latest MCA Annual Industry Report, conducted by Savanta, also reveals that exports have doubled with 71% of fee income accrued in the UK, and 29% gained overseas. This compares to 84% from the UK and 16% the year before with firms able to secure more work from clients globally with demand particularly high in the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa. Other common markets in which clients are clustered are the UAE, China, Japan and Singapore. The switch to remote working also led to more overseas work due to ease of access and less travel. While there has been growth in the proportion of clients from the rest of the world from 8% to 23%, the percentage of fee income from the EU has remained stable at 7%, despite the repercussions of Brexit.  

 The growing MCA membership directly supports over 56,000 jobs across the UK with over 36,000 full-time, consultants. Feedback from consultancy firms is that recruitment has increased rapidly recently to support more demand for client work, reversing the slowdown in hiring experienced in 2020. Although remote working and restrictions on office working meant training programmes had to be altered, MCA Member Firms still recruited 1,780 graduates and 1,199 trainees, school leavers and apprentices in 2020.  

 As part of the Consulting Excellence principles, MCA Member Firms are committed to diversity and inclusion within their workforce. A number of initiatives are in place at firms and positive progress is reflected in the findings of this years’ report. Women now make up 32% of Partners and Senior Level employees at member firms, a rise from 21% in 2019 with a third of Partners in small (31%) and large firms (33%) females. There is still more to do in this area as the number of women in consulting overall has fallen with 42% of employees at MCA Member Firms women and 58% men. This compares to 49% women and 51% men in 2019 and is mainly due to changes at medium sized firms. 

  Ensuring opportunities for progression and development are accessible to all is critical to better reflect the society that the consulting sector serves. BAME employees at Partner and Senior level has increased from 8% to 14% and a quarter of consultants (24%) at firms fall within the broader black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) category. Firms reported that 4% of consultants were black African, Caribbean or black British but 1% of consultants who are Partners or Senior level are of this representation. This compares to 16% of consultants who are Asian or Asian British and 6% of consultants at Partner or Senior level who are Asian or Asian British. Again, more progress needs to be made in ensuring that diversity and inclusion feeds through to the most senior positions in consultancy firms and opportunities for progression and development are accessible to all. A quarter (23%) of consultants at member firms have social mobility characteristics, broadly aligning with figures reported in 2019, with a third (32%) falling under this profile at medium sized firms. This metric covers an individuals’ background, opportunities, parental income and social class and helps to promote diverse application pools and promotion by socio-economic background. 

Tamzen Isacsson, Chief Executive, MCA, said: 

 “During critical times, our clients have leaned on the independent expertise and skills of consultants to help them deal with unforeseen challenges and transform their businesses to reach new markets and opportunities and therefore it’s unsurprising to see this industry growth in such a disruptive year. The global attractiveness of the UK consulting sector, the second biggest in the world, is clear and we are now exporting to more countries than ever before thanks to new digital ways of working. Firms have made important strides in improving diversity and inclusion in some key areas such as female leadership and this momentum must continue as we increase efforts to improve progress, implement best practice and monitor the diversity of the sector workforce over time.” 


Sian Toussaint, Co-Chair of the MCA Diversity & Inclusion Working Group and Senior Manager within Financial Services Consulting, PwC, added: 

 “Creating a culture that is truly inclusive of everyone enables all consultants to bring their authentic selves to work and is a priority for our industry. Understanding your workforce demographic through data collection is key, but organisations also need to look at both organisational elements such as employee policies and benefits to ensure they are inclusive for all identities, as well as creating a culture of inclusion and belonging. Allyship plays a huge part in ensuring we continue to listen, learn, challenge where necessary and drive change through the trusting relationships we build with our colleagues and clients.” 

 As the result of COVID-19, over half of MCA member firms (57%) expect their organisation’s overall office workspace to decrease with a quarter (23%) expecting the reduction to be significant. A third (35%) expect overall workspace to remain the same despite the consulting sector being able to switch to remote working swiftly at the start of the pandemic. Small and medium sized firms are more likely to downsize than larger firms with smaller firms planning a significant reduction (32% small, 18% medium, 0% larger firms).  

 As with other sectors, there has been a clear shift from the traditional working patterns of being in the office to remote working. This is expected to be made more permanent with MCA member firms anticipating that consultants will typically go into the office 2 or 3 times a week (36% and 42%) and just 4% expecting employees to be in the office full time or even 4 days a week. One in 6 (16%) expect consultants will go into the office less than once a week while medium and large firms expect 3 days to be the norm (56% and 60%). Consideration will also have to be given to clients and their policies about external employees working on site as firms start planning their hybrid working plans.  

The MCA’s Annual Industry Report 2021 provides an unrivalled assessment of the performance of the leading consulting firms in the UK which are part of the trade body the Management Consultancies Association. The report examines fee income data provided by member firms over recent years to identify the size, diversity, and growth trajectory of consulting activity of MCA members, as well as the wider consulting industry. Market research agency Savanta, partnered with the MCA to collect and analyse industry data for the 2021 report.  


Media Contact: 

Caroline Florence ( 0207 645 7959) 

Notes to Editors 

The Management Consultancies Association (MCA): 

The MCA is the representative body for the UK’s leading management consulting firms. For over 60 years, the MCA has been the voice of the consulting industry, promoting the value of consulting to business, the public sector, media commentators and the general public. The MCA’s mission is to promote the value of management consultancy for the economy and society as a whole. The MCA’s member companies comprise over 50% of the UK consulting industry work with over 90 of the top FTSE 100 companies and almost all parts of the public sector. The UK consulting industry is amongst the best in the world and a vital part of the business landscape. Click to see the full list of current MCA members see link 

Compliance with the MCA’s tough entry criteria and adherence to the principles of Consulting Excellence means that MCA member companies are widely acknowledged to provide high quality services to their clients. Many of their achievements are recognised in the annual MCA Awards. 

The report findings are based on data collected from the MCA membership, and supported by expert commentary provided by leading consultants.  


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