Nick Kempe – 24th March 2022
The Scottish Government’s decision to award KPMG the £546k contract to design the National Care Service is looking more immoral by the day.
Last week Private Eye revealed KPMG had about 4,500 staff in Russia and Belarus. In response to the attack on Ukraine, KPMG have separated their operations in these countries from their “international network” – whatever that means. Meantime, KPMG was celebrating the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority become a “significant client” the week that country executed 81 people in one day. KPMG claims to be a “values-driven organisation” but it appears their values are not those that should be leading the design of a National Care Service in Scotland.
The award of the NCS contract to KPMG was announced on 10th January, over three weeks after news emerged on 17th December that the company had withdrawn from bidding for UK Government contracts because of concerns from the Cabinet Office . On 3rd March I received two responses to Freedom of Information requests which asked when the Scottish Government first became aware of the UK Government’s concerns with KPMG and the date they actually awarded the contract to the company.
The first response was from the Scottish Government who provided a copy of contract letter, showing it had been awarded on 7th December, but declined to release any information about when and what it knew about the UK Government’s concerns about KPMG because:
“disclosure of information would, or would be likely to, cause substantial harm to the free and frank provision of views and advice. This exemption recognises the need for candid discussion to take place within a private space so that views and advice can be given freely and frankly.
This strongly suggested there had been some communication with the UK Government about their concerns with KPMG. This was then confirmed by the response from the Cabinet Office to the second FOI request. They were far more open, admitting they had not formally notified the Scottish Government of concerns but also that “Commercial Directors across the UK Government and representatives of the Scottish Government were notified about Cabinet Office’s engagement with KPMG at a meeting on 25 November 2021.”
The mind boggles! After free and frank exchange of views with the UK Government – presumably on 25thNovember – it appears Scottish Government officials decided still to award the contract to KPMG, only for Nicola Sturgeon then to announce later in January that KPMG had withdrawn from bidding for Scottish contracts too. By then it was too late. KPMG had the NCS contract – which they can use to design a privatised care system that furthers their interests – in the bag.
An insight into how this happened is provided by the organisational chart of the new National Care Service Team at the Scottish Government passed to Common Weal last week. This is marked “official sensitive”. The staff teams are very unbalanced. Under legislation, policy and engagement there are 14 civil servants, under finance – on which all else depends – just one, Fiona Bennet. At first sight this appears to explain why the Scottish Government decided to outsource the work on the finances of the NCS, they did not have the staff.
It is of more than passing interest, however, that according to her linked-in profile, before joining the Scottish Government in 2020 and then being appointed head of social care finance in January 2021, Fiona Bennet worked at KPMG for four years. That fact should be sufficient to prompt a full-scale and independent inquiry into why Scottish Government officials continued with the appointment of KMPG despite the UK Government’s concerns.
The wider issue is that significant parts of government in Scotland have now been captured by the private sector. Paula Speirs, for example, who has since January 2022 been NHS Scotland Deputy Chief Operating Officer and is now on the Board of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is ex KPMG, Capita and EY.
The award of the NCS contract to KPMG may not have been the directly the fault of Scottish Ministers, but it is their responsibility to sort out the unholy mess. The solution is clear. They need to assume responsibility for designing a National Care Service with local authorities, people with professional expertise and the people of Scotland rather than outsourcing this task to private interests.