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Consultants: Just what the doctor ordered?
Wise business doctors that can diagnose and prescribe, or quacks that will take your money and run? With the consultancy market more competitive now than ever before, and budget restraints meaning people want to hold on to their money as much as possible, Resource looks at the value of consultants
The title of ‘consultant’ is pretty vague; anyone with a morsel of knowledge in a specific sector can call themselves one. Indeed, disgraced former leader of Glasgow City Council, Steven Purcell, has created a new business called Twenty Ten Consultancy, named so after ‘the most dramatic year of his life’ during which problems with drug and alcohol abuse brought him much attention and caused him to lose his post. How many prospective clients there are waiting to absorb his pearls of wisdom remains to be seen. But with Defra alone reporting spends of over £25 million a year on consultancy services, it’s clearly a massive market.
In 2007, a parliamentary report revealed that the public sector ‘wastes more than £500 million a year on the unnecessary and poor use of consultants’. But is this because consultants are essentially a frivolous use of tightening budgets, or because those employing them are ill-informed as to how to best glean value from them?
Joe Papineschi, Director of Eunomia Research and Consulting, believes it all comes down to expectation, with the client playing the vital role in the procurement process. “There are huge amounts of money spent on consultancy projects which you can see from the outset are unlikely to result in anything happening, and quite often that’s because the brief isn’t addressing the real issue”, he says. “This can be a big problem. So, if we think there’s a flaw in the brief, or that the brief isn’t answering the key issue, we’ll tell them.”
Indeed, Dr Adam Read, Knowledge Leader for environmental consultancy AEA, confirms this. “Say you want to achieve 20 per cent uplift of tonnage in one area, but only specify in the brief that you want to talk to X number of people about it, a consultancy could win the contract at a much lower price, hit the specified objective but only achieve 10 per cent uplift of tonnage. The client realises they’ve set the wrong objective and will end up having to pay another consultant to achieve the right one. This is not efficient and there’s no value for money here.”
Value. This is the certainly the buzzword surrounding consultants at the moment. Where once they thrived in a boom market that was expanding due to new technologies, a spotlight on recycling and an increased awareness of waste, cuts in spending throughout the economy mean that their focus is now on efficiency, optimisation and obtaining ‘value for money’. But how to define this in the context of procuring a consultant?
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