Consulting firms: is the state spending too much money?

Last March, a Senate commission of inquiry threw a stone into the lake by denouncing the influence considered widespread by consulting firms within the state, with an increase in spending in recent years. Matthieu Courtecuisse, president of the Syntec Conseil, the trade union, and CEO of Sia Partners, in a debate with Prune Helfter-Noah, co-spokesperson for the collective Nos Services publics, which brings together civil servants from all sectors of the public.

Spending on consulting ministries will more than double between 2018 and 2021, to almost 900 million euros. Of those in public establishments, billions have crossed. What do you think ?

Matthew Courtecuisse: Let’s try to be precise. Half of this figure adds organizational strategy and consulting services and half to IT. This does not surprise us because it confirms our own evaluations. Typically, consulting spending tends to drop at the end of the terms of office of Republican Presidents while new elections are pending. This time, the health crisis has clearly turned everything upside down, administrations need to help in an extraordinary way.

However, I have one regret: the Senate commission, which before I auditioned, was dissatisfied with the contracts signed with the State and did not want to study the services provided at town halls, departments or regions. The Senate really represents the local authorities …

Plum Helfter-Noah: I want to say: finally figures! Last year, our collective, which brings together public servants from all walks of life to defend our administrations, published a study on outsourcing activities from the public sphere to in the private sector. It is impossible to get specific values ​​at that time. Moreover, the Senate commission of inquiry had to investigate: no State service knows the total value of consulting purchases.

What does this increase in spending, which began before Covid, show? ?

Plum Helfter-Noah: This phenomenon is in parallel with the desire to reduce the wage bill in ministries, which gained momentum under Nicolas Sarkozy in the RGPP (general change of public policies). But since the missions of civil servants do not change, a palliative must be found. Moreover, public accounting rules eliminate all latitude. Since the LOLF (organic law relating to financial laws) law was enacted in 2006, each ministry has a work ceiling that prohibits the recruitment, according to its needs, of additional agents, even that of fixed contracts. On the other hand, there is no problem to call a company.

Matthew Courtecuisse: The accompanying consultants came from top schools. Their work may be similar to that of senior civil servants. I’m not sure the number of the latter has been openly reduced. On the other hand, it is true that the administration lacks project managers and operational managers. Perhaps instead of staying in their inspection bodies, senior civil servants should be reassigned to executive missions.

Plum Helfter-Noah: What I see mainly is that companies are responding to specifications, asking them to be able to act less and have fewer people. We are integrated services, cutting staff, reducing costs, on behalf of an important change. Companies will then be asked again to perform tasks that can no longer be performed internally.

Matthew Courtecuisse: You made our interventions: only 30% of public sector missions are intended to affect the efficiency of organizations. The rest is to design and develop new services.

Is this appeal to cabinets really justified?

Matthew Courtecuisse: Often it is a question of addressing expertise that the State does not have and needs quickly but on time. Let me give you a concrete example: during a health crisis, it is necessary to immediately set up complex logistical plans to deliver millions of doses of vaccines while respecting the cold chain. The Ministry of Health clearly has no specialists in this area. It makes sense to bring outside experts. If, unfortunately, the health crisis continues, it will likely be necessary to internalize cold logistics professionals in the administration.

Plum Helfter-Noah: I do not dispute the interest of calling consultants, for specific needs. But it should be case by case and not systematic. The reality is we try to favor variable costs over fixed costs. And much worse for general interest and barriers specific to the public sector. By wanting to focus the administration on its core business – which no one has really defined – we end up losing essential skills, as in digital for example, where we lack IT specialists.

Moreover, this leads to another difficulty: we have difficulty judging or correcting “deliverables”. cabinets, in case there are problems. Let’s remember ten years ago the disaster of the Louvois military payroll software, which never worked.

Matthew Courtecuisse: In this regard, I am completely with you: outsourcing without internal technical expertise to control is guaranteed disaster. But this lack of skills largely raises the question of the State’s ability to offer attractive and rewarding careers, especially to job shortages. Even in the private sector, it’s hard to find developers or cybersecurity pros.

What about the relevance of the work performed?

Plum Helfter-Noah: The Senate commission shows that there is no good use of the town’s money. Consultants charge a high price for their day job! However, their services are of unequal quality, without blaming them. Some of the missions mentioned are even surreal. What is the point of spending nearly 500,000 euros to get an education at McKinsey in the teaching profession, whose essence comes from an extensive compilation of public data?

No one had the idea of ​​asking teachers on a theme they mastered more than a consultant! It is as if there is a feeling, perhaps not of contempt, but of a lack of trust in the public servants, particularly those who should apply for the recommendations of the cabinets. In other words, “you’re not competent, we’ll explain to you how to do it”.

Matthew Courtecuisse: In all companies, senior partners have years of experience in their field of activity and their teams are also expert. At Sia Partners, for example, public sector activity consists of approximately thirty consultants who do so and are adaptable. A vision outside of his profession may be relevant. In terms of tax avoidance, for example, Bercy learned a lot by acquiring current skills with insurance companies. As for the work done, it is up to the client to judge. He can take us back at any time.

Since what you are referring to is the Senate report, it is indicated that, from a sample of 78 missions conducted between 2018 and 2021, 55 were rated 4 and 5 out of 5, hence from “very satisfactory -he “up to” great “. There must still be a reason. Finally, at the rates charged, 1,500 euros per day on average, two clarifications: this is the company’s charge, not what the consultant earns, and it is in the order of -30% to -70% compared to private assignments.

The Senate inquiry committee has made several proposals to better regulate the use of consultants, including increased control over HATVP (High Authority for Transparency in Public Life). What do you think ?

Matthew Courtecuisse: First, let us avoid any conspiracy. Cabinets do not carry rain and shine. Public procurement tenders are highly regulated. In addition, porosity between public leaders and consultants should be low: less than 1% of companies ’staff come from the public service. And sometimes, as we have been accused of, we have email addresses in the ministry, not to hide ourselves but to prevent the leakage of confidential data.

From there, we are fine with anything that can contribute to transparency. Therefore, we support the prohibition of free assignments that may be made by certain companies, except in the context of declared sponsorship.

Plum Helfter-Noah : Better monitoring of benefits and combating conflicts of interest is welcome. But it does not solve the main structural problem. Just look at the circular released by the government in January to try to put out the fire. It is demanded to reduce spending by only 15% in 2022. But it is still 150% more than in 2018!

One last word on McKinsey’s “case”. The American consulting giant, whose head of the public sector division is close to Emmanuel Macron, has been accused of not paying corporate tax in France.

Matthew Courtecuisse: I cannot comment on the accusations of the commission of inquiry. But just one point: McKinsey’s French subsidiary was billed by its parent company, which reduced its revenues accordingly. This is called transfer pricing and it is controlled. I practice this with my foreign subsidiaries, which increases the taxable profit in France.

Plum Helfter-Noah: No comment from my side …

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