Step in the right direction

As EDS and the taxman threaten to head back to court and get back to the
serious business of airing their dirty linen in public, there are signs that the
consulting industry ­ and government ­ want to engage in less divorcing and more
counselling. And about time too.

The more generous minded would describe the recent relationship between the
public sector and the consulting industry as a qualified success. In many areas
consultants have delivered bang for their considerable buck, providing essential
advice without which Whitehall would have failed to make significant change
programmes happen.

To the more cynical ­ and many casual observers ­ the relationship between
the two has been costly, inefficient and ineffective. From health service reform
to the education department’s delivery of SATs, critics would argue, there has
been a disconnect between consultants and civil servants. And it is the taxpayer
who has suffered.

But change is afoot. The Management Consultancies Association is in talks
with the Office of Government Commerce to improve the way in which it
PA Consulting isn’t just losing data sticks containing prisoner records, it
argues, away from the public eye it is undertaking much-needed work to improve
the way the Highways Agency watches over trunk roads.

And there’s the rub. The industry continues to grow at inflation-busting
rates (we will be revealing all next month) but its reputation lags. In many
ways it is caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s beaten up for its
failures, as PA and others will tell you. But it is also attacked for its
successes. Vince Cable recently referred to the industry as enjoying a gravy
train when it comes to public sector work.

Communication may not the be all and end all, of course, but it is a start.

Related reading