Consulting firms exert strong influence in public bodies, and cost taxpayers millions

Consulting firms exert strong influence in public bodies, and cost taxpayers millions
Credit: Belga

The Brussels Public Regional Service (SPRB) and several other public interest organisations have spent at least €107 million on private audit and consulting services between 2018 and 2022, according to data highlighted by L'Avenir, La Libre and La Dernière Heure.

Major consultancy firms known as the 'Big Four' received the bulk of these payments. Between 2018 and 2022, organisations including SPRB, STIB and Actiris collectively paid €5o million to Deloitte, €5.3 million to KPMG, €4.9 million to EY, and €1.7 million to PwC.

A journalistic investigation sourced the figures from – an organ created in 2018 to improve transparency in public spending. However, participation in the register is not compulsory. Figures may therefore be higher than what is currently recorded.

Taking advantage of the public purse

Public officials favour consultancies for their efficiency and expertise, particularly in terms of IT services and the digital transition. However, some see the State's increasing outsourcing of public services management as a growing cause for concern.

"The risk of conflicts of interest is much greater, as well as a risk of decision-making power being handed over to these bodies," ULB professor of administrative law Patrick Goffaux told the La Dernière Heure. "[Consultants] enjoy authority because of their expertise, but it is not up to them to make political choices."

The phenomenon is not unique to the Brussels-Capital Region: since its genesis in October 2020, Alexander De Croo's Vivaldi government has paid almost €125 million in consultancy fees. The regional government in Flanders has been accused of similar spending but officials are at odds over the exact figure.

Federal and regional organisations have selected private consultancies to treat files of crucial importance, including response to the pandemic, cybersecurity, and defence. However, anonymous sources speaking to the investigative team indicated that consultants sometimes push the boundaries of their remit. "The Deloitte people were everywhere, even to the point of carrying out assignments that the contract didn't authorise them to do," one explained.

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Other sources suggest that an exploitative dynamic exists between public bodies and private firms, owing to a knowledge gap that favours consultants. One source explained: "The best IT specialists often go into the private sector. So it's virtually impossible to do without them and sometimes they take advantage of the situation... They charge €1,000 for a day's work and then take five days to implement a system that could be finished in just one, knowing that no one in-house is in a position to assess what they do."

Furthermore, an evolution of pricing suggests that consultancy fees are disproportionately high. In 2021, Deloitte was contracted to develop an online site for Bruxelles Logement (BL). At the time, the cost was fixed at €597,000. An internal SPRB audit in August 2022 shows that this figure climbed to €899,751 – an increase of 38%.

A similar case involves Deloitte, who was tasked with redesigning the online portal Originally due to cost €30,000 in 2012, the price shot up to €243,571 ten years later.

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