Published Wednesday, 18 April 2012
The PAC report says the public sector is overspending on external consultants. (© Getty)
A Public Accounts Committee report has found that close to half of the contracts have been more expensive than original estimates.
In one case, the external consultancy costs to reform Account NI - a centralised accounts processing system within the civil service - rose from £0.97m to £9.6m and consultancy support was required for four years longer than originally envisaged.
In 2008, a PAC report into external consultants highlighted that costs had more than doubled over the previous five years, while in 2006-07 the expenditure peaked at £42m.
"Too often, external consultancy was used as an attempt to provide protection for civil servants' decision making," said PAC chair Paul Maskey.
The extent to which some contracts were extended, and the repeated nature of some contract extensions, give cause for concern.
Wednesday's document found although practice had improved since the previous report, there are still examples of poor practice across the public sector.
"Around 40% of the contracts ended up costing more than their original value," said Mr Maskey.
Referring to the costs involved in the Account NI reform, he said the committee was "appalled" that the Department of Finance and Personnel did not act over the increased expenditure.
"The project experienced a huge cost overrun and should have been retendered and opened to competition. The lack of competition for almost £9 million is simply unacceptable."
The committee has called for further consideration to ensure that the cash spent on external consultants to be transparent, well-managed and offer good value for money.