Can’t buy me (well, consultants) love

Consultants are used to getting flack, it comes with the territory, but today I read an article which I thought was unduly negative about the role that consultants can play in public sector reform.

This article highlighted the appointment of Paul Rogers, a managing partner of US firm Bain & Company, to the Department for Education’s ‘progress and challenge committee, which will quiz senior civil servants on their progress in creating a leaner department’.

There seems to be two arguments within the article against this:

  1. Why a private sector consultant has a say on how a department makes savings; and
  2. Whether there is a conflict of interest between Rogers’ role and any future contracts that Bain may bid for with the Department.

Our experience of carrying out similar roles for local authorities suggests that both points are flawed, and that there actually significant benefits to this approach.

On the first point, there is potentially great value that can be achieved from having a fresh perspective on boards overseeing major change programmes. Consultants can bring experience of what has worked (or not worked) in other organisations, as well as invaluable challenge to dyed-in-the-wool ways of thinking. This helps prevent against turkeys refusing to vote for Christmas, and can bring genuine innovation to an organisation such as DfE.

On the second, it is true that this role could give Rogers and his company greater access than his competitors to contextual information for any future tenders they compete for, but this is why the public sector has stringent and transparent procurement rules.

I’m not saying everything about this approach is perfect (Tory party donors such as John Nash advising Tory ministers doesn’t scream ‘impartial challenge’ to me) but efforts such as this to bring new thinking to the public sector should be tested more, not shouted down.

So show us consultants some Valentines love, if only for a day!


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