A digital, better value, government must utilise consultants

I'm not as pessimistic as many about the role of consulting in the public sector over the next five years. Spending was coming back in the last couple of years of the 2010/15 Parliament following the dramatic falls of 2010 and 2011. This was a healthy sign that ministers and senior managers recognised the value that they can gain from our world-class consulting industry. Many of the best entries to the annual MCA Awards are for projects involving the public sector.

The appointment of Matthew Hancock to the Cabinet Office, where he will lead for the government on civil service and procurement reform, is a shrewd one. He has the full confidence of the chancellor, George Osborne, so we are likely to see a more joined-up and effective relationship between the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury.

The pressure to reduce the fiscal deficit certainly hasn't gone away. At the same time, the pressure from the public to improve the quality and accessibility of services will only grow as well.

Yes, this means that departments will want evidence of value for money and that the business case for engaging consultants will have to be good. We welcome this.

But it also means that, if the government really grasps a reform agenda, there will be plenty of areas where consultancies will be able to make a real difference.

Reform and resources

I hope that the new government will be radical, asking some quite fundamental questions about what government is there to do, how it needs to be organised and what resources it should be able to call upon to get the job done.

And it should now immerse itself in the opportunities of the digital world. Applied well, digital can release efficiencies, transform services and get the citizen engaged in ways that none of us can imagine today. It is, for instance, key to the medium-term future of the NHS.

To help get to this point, the MCA is engaging with the Crown Commercial Service – and many others – to try to improve how consulting is bought and, more widely, the relationship between the public sector and the consulting industry. Too often in the past, we have failed to get the best out of each other. By creating a more effective partnership, we can deliver massive benefits for the taxpayer and all our fellow citizens.

Alan Leaman is chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association.

The opinon piece was originally featured in Accountancy Age