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Stormont watchdog in consultants probe

Published 14/09/2007

The extensive use of outside advisers by Northern Ireland Government departments is to be investigated by a Stormont watchdog, it can be revealed today.

The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will be examining the tens of millions of pounds which are spent annually by the civil service on consultants.

Its inquiry will begin in November and will include a hearing at which top officials from the Department of Finance will be grilled.

The scale of consultancy spending by departments has been a contentious issue for a number of years.

It's understood previous Secretary of State Peter Hain voiced concern privately during his time at Stormont at the scale of the bills.

Direct rule Minister John Spellar went public with his views in 2005, telling the Belfast Telegraph: "I have a concern about what I see as the overuse of consultants and also, quite frankly, in a number of cases, the poor quality of the work we get as a consequence."

Mr Spellar also suggested the growing use of outside consultants may be down to a "loss of self-confidence" among public servants.

The Assembly PAC is expected to examine whether Department of Finance guidelines on hiring consultants are always followed within government.

These rules cover such issues as formally establishing the need to bring in advisers, and assessing their work afterwards.

The Committee may also review cases where consultancy projects have been extended, resulting in the original contract values rising sharply.

PAC member John Dallat welcomed the planned inquiry.

He said: "It's time to really get to grips with how much is being spent on consultants and what taxpayers are actually getting for their money."

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last year that senior Government officials had been accepting significant hospitality from top consultancy companies, including tickets to sporting and musical events.

Civil service rules on accepting hospitality were tightened up following the coverage.

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