Ministers facing watchdog probe over 'secret' £75m Brexit contracts

Posted On: 
10th January 2019

A raft of multi-million pound government contracts with consultancy firms on Brexit planning are to be investigated after ministers were criticised for keeping them a “secret”.

All nine agreements are described as contracts for "the supply of Cabinet Office consultancy support for EU Exit"
PA Images

A Sky News investigation found nine top companies were hired for between £5m and £10m a time from last April on contracts including for "the supply of Cabinet Office consultancy support for EU Exit".

Among the major brands were Deloitte, Accenture and PwC, with three of the contracts taken out by American firms Bain, McKinsey and Boston Consulting and together worth £25m.

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Government officials have been accused of “secrecy for the sake of secrecy” after the broadcaster’s probe found details were published on an section of their website only eight months after they had come into action.

Furthermore, they say crucial facts from the contracts, stretching to more than 200 pages, were left out, including who signed them off and the work involved.

The agreements were also awarded under a framework titled "Health and Community", despite being entirely focused on Brexit preparations.

Public Accounts Committee chair, Meg Hillier, said ministers’ actions were “ridiculous” and that taxpayers should know where their money is going.

“It is completely unnecessary - secrecy for the sake of secrecy," she said. “It's not a secret that the government needs management consultants to help prepare for Brexit.

“But not to tell us what those consultants are doing, when they're being paid between £5m and £10m, is just crazy.

“I just don't understand why the Government is so intent on keeping it secret.”

The MP vowed to bring the issue to the attention of the National Audit Office, the Government’s spending watchdog, in a bid to dig out further information on the contracts.

“They will have to make a judgement about what is possible to reveal - but really the Government should just bring this out itself,” she added.

"This is ridiculous. We're within three months of us leaving the EU as it stands. We should know what the government is spending and what it's spending it on. Let's not forget that this is taxpayers' money."

Shadow Cabinet Office minister, John Trickett: “This is yet another instance of the Government trying to keep the public in the dark over their Brexit preparations, while they waste £4.2bn on preparing for a no deal they should be ruling out. It is simply not acceptable.”

“These bloated contracts illustrate the folly of almost a decade of Conservative cuts to the civil service and the growing reliance on costly consultancy firms to fill the gaps. 

“We need full transparency, and it's right that these contracts are investigated.”

The Cabinet Office said: “It is standard for government departments to draw on the advice of external specialists to deliver key government policy.

“All government contracts are published online - and these are no exception."

Six of the nine firms approached by Sky News have replied, with each saying they could not comment on client matters.