OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Some of My Best Friends are Consultants

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  • Sacha,

    Great work. Given the accompanying move to reduce 'back-office' staff, it would be interesting to know which sorts of functions are being done by consultants in each department too. Is that level of detail available anywhere?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16489 posts Report Reply

  • papango,

    Select committees ask departments for information about contractors and consultants. How many and total cost is required for every department's yearly financial review. Those numbers exist.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2012 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng, in reply to papango,

    Ah! The Financial Reviews. That's what I'm doing next.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    You just need to look at the sort of projects coming out on the GETS website. A lot of stuff that could be done much more cheaply and efficiently in-house. But there are no staff left with the expertise or institutional memory, so everything is tendered and it is a very slow complex process. Also very inefficient in that several groups may spend a lot of time - weeks - putting the tender together but there is only one winner, which is very bad for relationships all round. There is a lot more pressure on the contract relationship managers to negotiate the whole process and come up with an outcome which is acceptable to various groups, including those in the departmental hierarchies and those who missed out on the tender in the first place (and who are watching very carefully). During this slow cumbersome process the original problem may have morphed into something else, but there is no flexibility to adapt.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2030 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    And staff who manage tender processes are, you guessed it, regarded as 'back office', so are slashed. The whole thing takes even longer, and eventually good tenderers stop bothering. Ambishus.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16489 posts Report Reply

  • Fraser Gardyne,

    Hilary and Sacha, you are right on the money! It's an absolutely hopeless situation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2009 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng, in reply to papango,

    Select committees ask departments for information about contractors and consultants. How many and total cost is required for every department's yearly financial review. Those numbers exist.

    Little help?

    I've been going through Select Committee reports on Financial Reviews and evidence submitted to them, but haven't found anything. Could you point me in the right direction?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    One thing that interests me is whether consultants have the same transparency and impartiality requirements as public servants. For instance, internal correspondence, documentation and research would be subject to an OIA when carried out in-house: is there the same level of scrutiny for consultants, or is only the final report available?

    I'm not necessarily accusing such consultants of bias, but I wouldn't be surprised if evidence-based policy might seem somewhat incovenient to certain ministers. It would be in their interests to hire advisors known for, shall we say, applying a neo-liberal lens to the world. Is there any way of knowing what research external consultants might have looked at and discarded, or never looked at all, if it wouldn't have led to a conclusion that the minister wanted?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • papango, in reply to Keith Ng,

    It should be in the evidence from the agencies and the questions you want are 16, 17 and (particularly) 18 (which gives the details for every contractor or consultant). I hate the parliament website so I usually just Google 'financial review' and the name of the department. There's probably a better way.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2012 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng, in reply to papango,

    Thanks!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng,

    Also, just looked up a few: The Financial Review numbers don't match with the Treasury numbers and neither match with the directly OIAed numbers. "Don't match" as in they look like completely different numbers.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • papango, in reply to Keith Ng,

    That doesn't surprise me. I've seen a variety of interpretations of what will be included in 'contractor and consultant'. Few of which have any logic or consistency behind them. It probably depends on who answers to OIA or select committee questions and what they decide on the day. That's one of the reasons that figuring out if the cuts have saved money is so hard.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2012 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Back in 2010, looking at consultant expenditure was considered important to measuring the success of the Capping regime. Despite not having 30% of the data, they considered it proof that the Capping regime wasn't affecting consulting expenditure.

    And I think that's the real story here: just how shoddy Treasury's analysis is.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1630 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    Should outsource them. At least slash their budgets to 'encourage efficiency'.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16489 posts Report Reply

  • Susannah Shepherd,

    Treasury's shoddy data doesn't remotely surprise me.

    At my (shall remain nameless) agency, we are however seeing quite a change in our approach to consultants - the cap on numbers plus fast-falling baselines means that we're employing far fewer in-house consultants, and really only buying in skills that we can't hire and/or don't need permanently. This does differ from the past when we often got in quite mediocre people at generous rates as a lazy alternative to a proper recruitment, training and workforce planning strategy. I'm now seeing more applicants for mid-range policy jobs coming from those who have been in the consulting sector, as contracts are harder to get than they used to be unless you're highly skilled and experienced.

    I'd be surprised if government is routinely using consultants in the way Tom describes - Ministers' offices don't hold appropriations for policy advice and I've seen a couple of occasions when a chief executive has had very stern words with a Minister who had the temerity to suggest a preferred consultant for a departmental piece of work. And if the consultant is working in-house, which is often the case if they're working on advice to go directly to Ministers, the stuff they are working on will generally be discoverable.

    This government has tended to set up separate advisory groups (like the Charter Schools Working Group) when it wants more politically-directed advice, but at least that's relatively transparent - and if the group has any sort of secretariat function supported by officials, a lot of the transactions will be in an official system somewhere.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2008 • 57 posts Report Reply

  • Pete Sime,

    I'll be interested in having a look at the 2012 Human Resource Capability Survey when it comes out later this year. I wonder if there'll be a marked increase in unplanned turnover - indicating the departure of public servants who have decided to move on rather than deal with the stress of staying on.

    Dunedin • Since Apr 2008 • 144 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    If only one question needs to be asked, it'd have to be...

    Who audits the auditors?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4157 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to DeepRed,

    if it's a Select Committee annual financial review, then the answer is us voters.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16489 posts Report Reply

  • Max Call,

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10798006
    "The data on consultant expenditure was released to freelance journalist Keith Ng under the Official Information Act."

    Fruit Bowl of New Zealand… • Since Jun 2007 • 153 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    From a personal example
    We can't afford to support Macs because it would require our help desk to er help

    But we can afford to hire a consultant to tell us if should be using and supporting iPhones

    Essentially consultants are used to avoid taking responsibility for making decisions - it was the consultants reccomendation...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3262 posts Report Reply

  • whataboutandrew,

    I note, as you note, the data is not good. But what does spending more on consultants actually indicate? I don't think money spend really means much....

    Wellington • Since Apr 2012 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    and supporting your conclusion, it's rather hard to get work as a consultant if you have a reputation for delivering based on evidence rather than the hirer's agenda.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16489 posts Report Reply

  • whataboutandrew,

    @ Sacha

    That goes not just for consultants but also public servants too.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2012 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to whataboutandrew,

    verily. it's one reason I have little confidence about which public servants are being 'let go'.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16489 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    And this story makes the top of RNZ's midday news.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

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