Inspection report calls for input of consultants to be maximised by criminal justice agencies

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has today (23 March 2010) published a new report examining the use of consultants within the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.

The inspection looked at spending on consultancy and staff substitution services over a three-year period between 2005-06 and 2007-08.
“Inspectors found that £37.2m was spent on consultants for both consultancy projects and staff substitution during this time, which equates to less than one per cent of the total operating budget of the criminal justice system," said Brendan McGuigan, Deputy Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“Consultants are expensive resources and we found evidence that robust systems were in place in relation to the authorisation, approval and monitoring of expenditure on consultancy work,” he said.
However while this is to be welcomed, Inspectors found there was less focus on monitoring spending when external consultants were used to provide support under staff substitution arrangements.
“The inspection revealed that while the amount spent in relation to traditional consultancy has declined over the three year period from £10.5m to £7m, expenditure on staff substitution within the criminal justice system had increased from £10.9m to £17.8m during the same period,” said Mr McGuigan.
“As a result we have recommended that all organisations should apply the same approach to staff substitution as is the case for consultancy,” said the Deputy Chief Inspector.
The inspection report also called on the criminal justice system to develop a more open, competitive market place in order to increase the number of potential suppliers available.
“The inspection found that 60% of spending on consultancy and staff substitution work had been awarded to five companies over the three years, with one receiving £17.8 in expenditure – nearly half of all spending in the period 2005-06 to 2007-08,” said Mr McGuigan.
While the Deputy Chief Inspector stressed this did not represent evidence of poor practice, he indicated the creation of dominant suppliers could lead to the clustering of skills, experience and expertise within a small number of consultancy firms.
“We would urge the criminal justice system to look at the current system and work to remove where possible, any barriers such as security vetting and the application of ‘relevant experience’ that may exist. This would enable new suppliers to compete more effectively and increase the size of the pool of potential suppliers of consultancy services,” he said.
 “The effective use of consultants can provide innovative thinking, professional insight and technical skills beyond what is available within many public sector organisations.
“But,” the Deputy Chief Inspector said, “there is a responsibility on all agencies to maximise the contribution made by consultancy support and the benefits consultants can provide.
“This means ensuring that skills are transferred from the consultant to staff within the organisation to enhance organisational learning. It should also involve carrying out post contract evaluations to assess the best use of external consultants.
“In addition, information should be shared between criminal justice organisations so they can benefit from the experience of their colleagues and share knowledge of best practice,” he concluded.