From 380 to almost 900 million euros in 4 years, the Senate denounces the “vast” phenomenon of government-paid consultancy firms

In its report, presented Thursday, a Senate committee of inquiry points to the “spreading” phenomenon of government ministries’ use of private consultancies, raising questions about strategic dependence or cost inflation for public finances.

From APL reform to vaccine strategy, private consultancies are increasingly associated with public decision-making. A ubiquity, amplified by the health crisis, that a Senate committee of inquiry into the influence of private consultancies on public policy is denouncing in a report published March 16.

Led by rapporteur Éliane Assassi (French Communist Party), the senators spent 4 months investigating this “vast phenomenon” of the use of consultancies, organizing 40 hearings, 22 of which were under oath, and collecting more than 7,000 confidential documents.

Yes “the health crisis has highlighted the influence of consultancies on public policy, particularly with McKinsey’s intervention in the vaccine campaign” points to the Senate, “It was really just the tip of the iceberg”.

“Consultancy firms intervene in entire sectors of public policy, in the most total opacity (reform of APL, shortening of processing times for asylum applications, States General of Justice, etc.)”, regrets the Commission of Inquiry.

And to point out some issues.

Intervention too massive…

Firstly, the excessive intervention of consultancies is denounced. Even if, in mid-January, Jean Castex adopted a circular to regulate the use of “intellectual services”. The latter is not binding. “The numbers show a growing and unchecked use of advisors, who impose their methods of ‘transformation’ on the administration (post-its, paperboards, role-playing games, etc.),” explains the Senate. A development that shows “a political will to rely on consultancies rather than the administration”denounced Eliane Assassi, especially the example of the McKinsey cabinet.

Also accused by the Tax Optimization Commission of Inquiry, this company was approached by the government both for the reform of the method for calculating the personalized housing aid (for a total amount of 3.88 million euros) and as part of the vaccination campaign against covid (12 33). million). Together with other firms, such as Capgemini or Semaphores, they have ‘accompanied’ the state on important topics. “Consultancy firms have intervened in most of the major reforms of Macron’s five-year term,” denounce the senators whose calculations conclude that “20 companies alone represent 55% of the advice given to ministries”.

…for an exploding price

Illustration of this inflation of relying on these private practices, the inflation of the bill paid by the state. If the use of private companies “didn’t start during this five-year term. Everyone remembers the supposed call for advisers” during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, it was under Emmanuel Macron’s presidency that the bill exploded. Between 2018 and 2021, the public finance costs of these requests more than doubled, from €380 million to almost €900 million!

The cost to public finances of using private consultancies has more than doubled in four years.
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A cost that raises all the more questions the more “results are not always there, according to the McKinsey report on the future of the teaching profession, still billed 496,800 euros”point out the senators.

Public dependency

The ubiquity of these private companies also worries senators that it signals an increased “dependence” on the government on the use of these “advice”.

“Using consultants is a reflex these days that sometimes gives the feeling that it… [le gouvernement, NDLR] don’t know how to do it anymore“, warns the Senate Committee of Inquiry. It also denounces the growing influence of these companies on public decision-making. “for the habit of ‘priority’ proposed scenarios” requested with the Ministry, “which amplifies their weight in public decision-making”.

A dependency that worries senators, especially since the sovereign ministries (Home Affairs and Armies) are among the most demanding of these consultancies.

The cost to public finances of using private consultancies has more than doubled in four years.

The cost to public finances of using private consultancies has more than doubled in four years.
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To fill “staff shortages”

Another accusation of the senators against the government: too often the use of private companies compensates for a weakness of internal resources. The secretariat-general of the Ministry of the Interior thus acknowledged to the committee that some advisers did not come to contribute specific expertise, butr “a lack of staff (…) in a deteriorating budgetary context with regard to the recruitment of officials”† The risk denounced by the senators: entrusting them with “management tasks” of public money, normally entrusted to the administration. At the very least, the commission blames the state for filling its staff shortages with these “recruits”, driven by its will to cut government spending.

Transparency

To counter these excesses, the Commission of Inquiry asks that: “the transfer of skills from consultancies to administration” be sent back “more effective”.

It also proposes, among its 19 recommendations, to publish the list of services provided by the state and its operators in open data, in order to promote transparency and citizen control over the use of public funds.

The senators also propose that public data entrusted to these firms be systematically destroyed upon completion of their advisory mandate. Indeed, the transfer and disclosure of this sensitive data to private organizations can raise questions. Mainly because we don’t know, as one cybersecurity expert pointed out to the committee, how his data is then protected by the companies in question.

“It is time for the state to take back control of its government policy”Eliane Assassi estimated this Thursday during the public presentation of the conclusions of this report. The senator of Seine-Saint-Denis plans to introduce a transpartisan bill on consultancies “in the autumn”.