The government has quietly awarded £75m of Brexit-related contracts to some of the world’s biggest consultancy firms, Sky News can reveal.
The deals, uncovered today for the first time, were never publicly announced.
They were given to nine high-profile international companies, including familiar names such as Deloitte, Accenture and PwC.
Each company received a contract worth between £5m and £10m.
Three of the contracts – together worth £25m – went to the American firms Bain, McKinsey and Boston Consulting.
All nine agreements are described as contracts for “the supply of Cabinet Office consultancy support for EU Exit”.
Each is due to run until 30 April 2019, but with the option for them to be renewed for a further year at the same cost.
Details of the plans were placed on an unobtrusive part of the government website just before Christmas, eight months after they had come into action.
But despite each including contracts running to more than 200 pages, crucial facts were removed – such as who in the government signed off the agreements and what work was actually involved.
In addition, the contracts were awarded under a framework titled “Health and Community” – but are, in fact, entirely focused upon preparations for Brexit.
That process, which restricted selection to companies which had already passed a “vetting process” all but ended the chance of smaller, Brexit-specific consultancies winning any of these contracts.
The chair of the public affairs committee, Meg Hillier, condemned the secrecy and delay as “ridiculous” and said the contracts would now be referred for investigation by the National Audit Office.
“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.”
She added: “I will be talking to the National Audit Office about this. We’ve talked to them before about other contracts and they have the ability to go into a contract and see, in details, what’s involved.
“They will have to make a judgement about what is possible to reveal – but really the government should just bring this out itself.
“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.”
Joe Owen, association director of the Institute of Government, is researching Whitehall preparations for Brexit. He told me that “febrile politics” had changed the way in which information is being shared.
He said: “We’ve not had a huge amount of transparency with regards to much on Brexit over the last few years, particularly not the kind of preparations that are going on for no deal.
“There’s definitely been an increase in secrecy more generally across the civil service as a result of Brexit, just because of how politically difficult it’s been for many reasons.
“There are the divisions inside the country, the government, parliament, the cabinet and that’s kind of fed into this level of secrecy.”
Sky News has contacted all the companies involved. So far six have replied – all saying they could not comment on matters involving clients.
These are the details of the nine contracts, each for consultancy support:
:: The Boston Consulting Group – £10m
:: Bain & Company Inc. United Kingdom – £10m
:: McKinsey and Company, Inc. United Kingdom – £5m
:: Accenture (UK) Limited – £5m
:: Deloitte LLP – £10m
:: Ernst & Young LLP – £10m
:: Mott Macdonald Limited – £5m
:: PA Consulting Services Limited – £10m
:: Pricewaterhousecoopers LLP – £10m