back to article Watchdog: Hush-hush UK.gov blew £97m on Brexit wonks from six of the usual suspects

"Excessive secrecy" surrounds departmental spending on Brexit consultants, though 96 per cent of the £97m spaffed to date has gone to just six firms, according to the UK government's spending watchdog. The Public Accounts Committee's Brexit consultancy costs report found that departments have proved "overly secretive with …

  1. Rich 11 Silver badge

    More of the same

    The report also warned that too much of the work procured to date appears to have been focused on "thinking and shaping", rather than getting things done.

    Well, of course. You can't expect those expensive consultants to do anything which might one day be measured against hard, cold facts. Far better to just write some hand-wavy waffle hedged around with probabilities and leave it to the next poor sod to try to apply some of it to reality.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Agreed

      The "movers" and "shakers" are there to offer their great insights and then clear the area well before the grunts come in to try and apply the nebulous bullshit to the actual world.

      That way it is clear that, if the project does not succeed, it is purely because the grunts were incapable of sufficient insight to make things happen. It is in no case because the project was defined by hot air and horse dung.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Agreed

        Brexit in a nutshell.

    2. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge
      Megaphone

      Re: More of the same

      What we used to call "Management by the Seagull method" The management consultants come flying in, making a lot of noise, shitting all over your existing procedures, and then flying off again to shit on someone else. Leaving you to clean up the resultant mess, if possible.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: More of the same

        Management consultants? IME senior management could do that unaided.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: More of the same

      Thinking and shaping would be fine if it produced sensible ideas but there has been a dearth of those in the last few years.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: More of the same

        I am starting to think that either there isnt much left for government to actually do and so they cause work, or that they focus on too much that they shouldnt be doing and so do a bad job at everything. They generally seem to have a chasing their tails mentality.

    4. Rathernicelydone

      Re: More of the same

      Here is my consultant joke:

      A farmer is tending his sheep when a car stops near him. Out comes a man wearing an M&S suit and tie and carrying a laptop. He boldly declares to the farmer: “If I can tell you how many sheep you have in your herd can I have one of your sheep”?

      The farmer is intrigued and replies in the affirmative.

      The man opens his laptop and works on it for a few minutes before declaring that the farmer has 134 sheep.

      The farmer confirms that he has and invites him to take one.

      The man grabs an animal and is walking back towards his car when the farmer says: “You are a consultant aren’t you?”.

      The man turns around and says: “Yes how did you know?”.

      The farmer says: “You came here uninvited, told me something I already knew and then charged me for it. Now I would like my sheepdog back”.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So

    This is how the narrative shaping behind project fear was funded?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "thinking and shaping"

    "thinking and shaping", what little gem that is. I'll have to use that next time the boss catches me sitting on my arse doing fuck all.

  4. Ken 16 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "The Cabinet Office should write to us within three months"

    That will help.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: "The Cabinet Office should write to us within three months"

      Indeed.

      The reply will say something along the lines of: "The previous incumbents all resigned after emptying the office bank account and shredding all their paperwork, so we can't tell you anything."

      Sorreee.

  5. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Small Change

    I rather suspect this is a mere rounding error compared with what some very rich organisations and people expect to make from the chaos that would result from a no-deal exit.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Small Change

      So...

      1) Short Sterling;

      2) Push for no-deal;

      3) Wait for the pound to collapse (further);

      4) Profit.

      Shorting of any market should be outlawed. Too many scum-sucking arseholes happy to ruin everyone else in their sociopathic pursuit or profit.

      Suggestion for such types. And lots of it. ------------------------------------------>

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Small Change

        I believe the actual way shorting works is:

        1) Short Sterling;

        2) Push for no-deal;

        3) Wait for the pound to collapse (further);

        4) Wait longer

        5) Uh oh...

        6) Bankrupt

        Shorting works by buying a short-term option on another entities equity - if the option is worth more at the end of the contract, you lose money, if it is worth less, the entity your purchased the option off loses money. It is a zero-sum game.

        Typically, the hedge funds doing the shorting will balance their risk across options because if you are wrong (i.e. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2008/oct/29/vw-volkswagen-short-selling) things can go very wrong fast.

        The suggestion that someone is profiting from shorting on the current, very uncertain Brexit (both in terms of date and outcome) doesn't acknowledge the realities of the equities markets.

        Having said that, I am in favour of shorting being restricted - while it serves a purpose, negatively affecting the price of some equities is far easier than positively affecting the price, leading to market distortion.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: It is a zero-sum game

          Not for the guy getting the money. And those who short intend to get the money.

        2. Douglas Wardle

          Re: Small Change

          Shorting works by borrowing stock and selling it in the hopes that the shares can be bought for less at some future date, allowing the short-seller to pocket the difference. Buying/selling option puts/calls is not short selling per se, as depending on the position taken it can also be a wager on an equity increasing in value. About 80% of options expire with no value.

        3. Nick Kew Silver badge

          Re: Small Change

          Hedgies shorting the UK will dip in and out of short (and long) positions many times over as sentiment swings. Some will make money for their investors, others will get it wrong and lose money. But the fund managers always make money, even if their investors are wiped out.

          Those running hedge funds from within government are insider-trading. They'll make money even if the country is wiped out. And that's a conflict of interest that should have them on trial for treason when they bet against the UK.

          Oh, and equities are a red herring here. Their relationship to the country's health is sufficiently complex that a bet on equities isn't a bet on the health of the country - unless there's a fair bit more context to it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Small Change

            "Those running hedge funds from within government are insider-trading."

            Do you have anything to support this or is it pure supposition?

            Aside from official figures which are already heavily controlled if they affect markets, are you suggesting government policy is implemented so quickly that it has a meaningful impact on the markets or that the current government can clearly set and implement an agenda to allow them to benefit?

            There is a general idea that you can profit from disasters, but it relies heavily on unexpected changes happening quickly and catching the market off-guard - slowly dragging out leave (if indeed that is what happens) makes this difficult and indeed most government policy is pre-announced multiple times to specifically avoid spooking the market where possible.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Small Change

        The thing is you cant make shorting the market illegal without making trading illegal. To do that you have to say its illegal to buy anything for less than it was once sold for.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Small Change

          Shorting relies on options to buy/sell that are not necessarily backed by anything - as soon as you require traders to only sell shares/equities etc that they actually hold, you largely address the issue of shorting as the market moves with the trades vs the market only being aware of options when they exceed a certain percentage value.

          Kill options or at least ensure a party owns the thing they are trading and shorting becomes much more costly if you are wrong as you cannot quickly exit a speculative position. The downside is that you reduce the liquidity in the market, but the evidence I have seen indicates this penalises high frequency trading rather than the market in general - again, I'm not sure this is a bad thing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Small Change

      Sorry, nonsense. Chaos is very hard to make money from: you need to be able to predict what happens next for that.

      1. monty75

        Re: Small Change

        Not very likely that Brexit chaos is going to make the pound rise

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Small Change

          Nope, but then the pound has been falling for a decade.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Small Change

          "Not very likely that Brexit chaos is going to make the pound rise"

          And if everyone thinks the pound is going to drop, the only ones that make money trading it are?

          1. RuffianXion

            Re: Small Change

            The ones who started planning this 4 years ago.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Small Change

              So to make money on this, you tie up a significant amount of capital and ignore what you can earn in the intervening years?

              Hypothetically, lets say you bet £10 million on a Brexit disaster. If you are right you double your money. Normally, each year, your company is able to get about a 20% return on any capital it has after expenses etc.

              If Brexit is delivered in the next 12 months and you double your money, you are slightly ahead of where you would have been if you had not speculated on Brexit. If you remain or Brexit is delivered in 6+ years, you lose a significant amount of money.

              Alter the figures as you see fit, but you need to go significantly outside the margins/returns you would typically see reported by hedge funds to get any real return on Brexit at the point we have currently reached by not leaving on the 31st of March.

      2. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: Small Change

        Chaos is very hard to make money from: you need to be able to predict what happens next for that.

        Fund managers are like lawyers: they get handsomely paid even when their clients lose. The money you can guarantee making is your fees for managing your investors' assets. Of course you make more if you do well for the clients: those performance benefits can get seriously juicy.

        Those fund managers who are insider-trading (inside the UK government) have an obvious advantage.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Small Change

          "Fund managers are like lawyers: they get handsomely paid even when their clients lose."

          Fund managers are typically rewarded on the growth of the funds they manage - if the funds grow, they get paid very well, if not, they usually become ex-fund managers pretty quickly.

          The idea that funds keep on losing money and keep getting new clients to invest is interesting....maybe you've chosen the wrong pension provider?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A big zero

    *All* government IT projects fail to engage SME's, for the good reason that only large companies can afford the paperwork involved. This is hardly news, The Register runs this sort of article every six months. I daresay the surfeit of "thinking and shaping" can be put down to the previous administration doing it's level best to avoid leaving any part of the Customs Union or just about any part of the EU for an extended period of time. Which would have become never in due course.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A big zero

      Dear me, such confussiles. First half of your blert was govt/IT-related, deadon, and up-votable. Second half was political vinegar and down-votable. What to do? What to do? Maybe I could ask some consultants to help me decide? I'll get back to you in awhile...

      * confussiles: pointy objects propelled in all directions

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A big zero

        I'll help. But it's £500 an hour :-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A big zero

          "I'll help. But it's £500 an hour :-)"

          At that rate, you clearly don't know what you are doing.

          I'm £10k/day, no starts before 11AM, 3 hours for lunch to avoid indigestion and I like to be in my club by 5:30PM. And if it rains, or their are leaves on the driveway or the moats full I'm not leaving my mansion.

          And while I'm happy to work from home, as I only have a mansion you will need to purchase a smaller home for me to work from.

          If you need a sample of my work as evidence of my analytical skills, I would say it rhymes with "Donand ducked"

          1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
            Thumb Down

            You're at 10K/day and you're posting on El Reg ?

            Pull the other one.

            1. RuffianXion

              https://lmgtfy.com/?q=satire

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: A big zero

        "confussiles: pointy objects propelled in all directions"

        Nice. Very nice.

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    For the Blind leading the Blind ...... the 0Daily Soap that just keeps on Giving .....

    ...... or Stealing if you're being Constantly Unreasonably Taxed.

    Is it any wonder or a surprise that governments are always playing second fiddle to sub-prime private and/or deadly pirate enterprise.

    Familiar snouts in the trough is the perverse cost of doing no great business ...... but it does identify the fat cat chancers playing softly softly catchee monkey with born again losers .... every time.

    It also more than just suggests the Cabinet Office is not up to Future Greater IntelAIgent Games Use, and that can result in them being simply omitted from Leading AI Team Plays.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: For the Blind leading the Blind ...... the 0Daily Soap that just keeps on Giving .....

      Am I right in thinking you are a bit of a cynic?

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: For the Blind leading the Blind ...... the 0Daily Soap that just keeps on Giving .....

        Am I right in thinking you are a bit of a cynic? .... Chris G

        No, you are wrong, Chris G, for a hell of cynic would be right thinking whenever everything is so desperately wrong and so thoroughly unconvincing ie unable to withstand a toxic forensic examination/deep dark see analysis.

        You surely don't believe the breaking news stories of today are anything more than aspiring and conspiring tales of the past and yesterday ‽ .

  8. cb7

    The only time organisations employ external consultants is when they've lost their way and hope an outsider will be able to tell them which way to go.

    If we had competent leaders, they wouldn't get lost in the first place.

    1. Garymrrsn

      RE: Competent Leaders

      "If we had competent leaders, they wouldn't get lost in the first place."

      The only competency required to be a leader is the competency to acquire the position of leader. There fore; All leaders are competent.

      I would suggest those who doubt my pronouncement consult your respective leader.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The only time organisations employ external consultants is when they've lost their way and hope an outsider will be able to tell them which way to go."

      Completely untrue - management often knows what they have to do but are unwilling to implement it. Bringing in a consultant and getting them to formally advise you to do the morally repugnant things you know are required and to wash your hands of the consequences.

      See "downsizing" or any of the horrid words IBM chooses to use to make it sound more appealing.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        management often knows what they have to do but are unwilling to implement it....See "downsizing" or any of the horrid words IBM chooses to use to make it sound more appealing.

        At risk of taking the thread severely OT does however many quarters of shrinking returns we're now up to suggest management had any idea of what they ought to have done?

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      We never elect competent leaders - we elect charismatic ones. Charisma it the exact opposite of competence.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > Charisma it the exact opposite of competence

        Not always. For example, I'm both competent *and* charismatic.

        Or so my doctor tells me. Just before the nurse comes to put me back in my nice wraparound jacket.

    4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      The only time organisations employ external consultants is when they've lost their way

      Or (in my experience) when they want someone to blame that isn't senior management when it (inevitably) goes horribly, horribly wrong.

      "It's the reassuringly expensive consultants wot made us do it!"

  9. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Unhappy

    There is a reason

    why its always the same suspects getting fat juicy government contracts...... where else do you think the 'ing useless government ministers get a job after finally getting booted out of power......

    Hence Olly (somebody) got himself a job at goldman sachs last week........

  10. dnicholas Bronze badge

    Apt

    I always though of Deloitte as an insolvency firm, brought in to pick the carcass clean after big businesses hit the rocks...

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Apt

      Na - they're better than that - they write the accounts that make people invest in the company so there's some meat for them when it goes into insolvency,

  11. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Maybe

    They wanted a consultation on fitting Brexit anally, when 'someone told someone in government to stick it up their arse'

    Thinking and shaping sounds like a modern interpretation on too many committee meetings.

    Is that B-Ark not ready yet?

    - oh and this time we're making room for the politicians (there's no A-Ark).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wot?

    I thought one of the big purposes of Brexit was to save money? Can't the Brexiteers pull a Trump and at least say "Brussels will pay for it!"? At least then half the people will sleep soundly believing they aren't paying for this cock-up.

  13. Winkypop Silver badge
    Devil

    Collective noun for consultants

    A "shyster".

    As in: a shyster of consultants.

    1. Robert D Bank

      Re: Collective noun for consultants

      ConsUltaNTS more like it

  14. Nick Kew Silver badge

    The rule of secrecy

    When an activity is shrouded in secrecy, someone has something to hide.

    Usually that "something" is embarrassment at the prospect of any kind of public scrutiny.

    The rule of secrecy: If you have nothing to be ashamed of, you have nothing to hide.

  15. Robert D Bank

    Thinking and shaping'. Does that translate to polishing a turd, or using it as modelling clay?

    That revolving door must be on bloody fire these days.

  16. ecofeco Silver badge

    Corporations deciding policy?

    Isn't there a word for that? Begins with an "f"?

  17. Cliff Thorburn

    There are far more darker and deeper abuses of power, and money at play than those prima facie at present.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019