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Consultant hire within the public sector fell by 15% last year following government spending cuts and the sharpest drop was in local government, where spending fell by 35%1. Huw Hilditch-Roberts, Director in Charge of the Institute of Consulting (IC) looks at how public sector organisations can ensure they hire consultants who deliver real value

The failings and fees of consultancies working in the public sector have been highlighted by a series of negative stories in the media. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that experienced and effective consultants remain one of the best tools available to leaders in the public sector, who find themselves navigating their departments or teams through major transformation and change while continuing to provide the service their stakeholders demand.

Robust selection and buying

Public sector organisations hiring consultants have come under close scrutiny, as have the consultants themselves. Now, more than ever, a robust selection and hiring process is essential, not only to ensure that the right consultancy with the requisite capabilities is hired, but also to demonstrate that due process has been followed in procurement.

A key part of the IC’s mission, as the home of professional and credible consultants, is helping buyers find and hire high quality consultants. The IC has developed a guide to buying consultancy services to accompany the procurement process, from the decision to buy to project completion. The guide is a good starting point for any organisation looking to hire a consultancy, it includes checklists for evaluating and hiring the right consultants together with guidelines on best practice behaviours expected of both the buying organisation and the consultancies being evaluated.

Quality and standards

Analyst house IDC says that key qualities of good consultants are integrity, an analytical mind, clarity of expression and empathy. We agree with IDC and have gone further: all members of the IC sign a Code of Conduct in which they commit to excellence, professionalism, putting client interests first and their own professional development.

High quality and professionalism can be found in consultancies of all sizes and buyers should shop around for the right firm. Big brand names may offer a sense of security, but quality, expertise and the ability to deliver should be the guiding factors – bigger is not always best and many smaller, niche consultancies can offer the focused specialist expertise that larger firms may be unable to provide.
When looking at individual consultants, evidence of the consultant’s ability to deliver results is an important consideration, in particular, look for a strong track record with projects relevant to your business problem or sector. Further, a good indicator of a consultant’s ability to deliver is competence-based accreditation by a professional body. In management consultancy, the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) award is the only globally recognised ‘kite mark’ of professionalism – it is only awarded to consultants who can demonstrate successful experience and practice in consultancy.

To make the process of finding credible, professional consultants easier, the IC is launching a National Register of consultants. The National Register simplifies the process of finding individual consultants and consultancy practices with the right expertise for a project by enabling buyers to search for and shortlist consultants. The National Register also highlights accredited consultants, their track record and capabilities helping buyers make an informed decision when shortlisting consultants.

Good consultants mean good business

Many of the IC’s 5,500 consultants operate in the public sector and I do sometimes see projects that have failed. , what’s more common however, are examples of effective consultancy projects delivering real value to both public and private sector clients. Public sector consultancy projects regularly feature in the annual IC awards, the glowing endorsements given by senior civil servants in many of the entries highlight the professionalism and dedication to delivery that good quality consultants bring to their work.
So can the public sector get good value from consultants? The answer is a resounding yes – the key is to hire professional, experienced consultants with a demonstrable track record of quality and effectiveness.

For more information on the services provided by the IC, visit

1 Figures reported by the Management Consultancies Association for 2010


Written by Huw Hilditch-Roberts
Tuesday, 20 December 2011 14:02

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