Departments spent €38m on external consultants since 2011

Figures show 911 reports paid for, with highest number in Department of Education

Almost €38 million has been spent by Government departments on external consultancy reports since 2011, new figures reveal.

A total of 911 reports between March 2011, when the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition took office, and last month cost almost €38 million.

The figures were obtained through parliamentary questions by Meath West Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells, who claimed it showed that the two Fine Gael-led governments in power since March 2011 have been "over reliant" on external expertise.

The highest number of reports was commissioned by the Department of Education with 112 external contracts costing a total of €2,045,141, despite no figures being provided for 2011.

Next highest was the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation with 103 reports at a higher cost of €4,613,393.

The Department of Housing commissioned 90 reports at a total cost of €5,770,805, and the Department of Agriculture commissioned 90 at a cost of €7,473,144 – the highest outlay of all government departments.

The lowest spending was the Department of the Taoiseach, with €32,990 spent on six reports. The Department of Arts spent €106,097 on nine reports, with nine reports costing the Department of Defence €189,030.

‘Shockingly high’

Mr Cassells described the total €38 million as a “shockingly high figure” when an expanding civil service “should be fully equipped to run their departments”. A public sector recruitment embargo was in place, however, during the economic crisis but was lifted from 2015 onwards.

“These figures expose the over reliance of the Government on expensive external reports and underlines the need to ensure the taxpayer gets value for money from these consultants,” Mr Cassells said. “Some of the reports are highly questionable in nature.

“For example, numerous reports have gone unpublished for no specific reason, despite the significant cost associated with them. This includes significant reports on the Housing Assistance Payment and social housing construction.”

He suggested that the Oireachtas committee system should be given greater powers to ensure that external contractors do not duplicate work undertaken by the civil service.

In response, a Government spokesman said Fianna Fáil leader Micheàl Martin spent €30 million on reports during his tenure as Minister for Health. "External expert advice is sought from Government Departments from time to time to better inform public policy,” he added.

“This spend breaks down as an average of about €360,000 per Government Department per year. Contrast this with Micheal Martin's time in Government when he spent €30 million on reports while he was Minister for Health."