Over the past five years, political scientists have begun to devote attention and research to the contribution of commercials external consultants to change in the contemporary public sector. Opinion and findings have differed over two questions: how much influence consultants have had over broad policy and which consultants have been most influential in policy and management. Some researchers (Denis Saint-Martin in particular) have pointed to the international accountancy firms as especially important, following their diversification into management and other fields of consulting, including policy consulting, in recent decades. This paper seeks to contribute to this debate by assessing the breadth and 'policy significance' of consultancies carried out by the 'Big Six' accounting firms for all Commonwealth departments in the period 1987-93. Data used was the summary details of consultancies required to be published in departmental Annual Reports from 1987 on. A mixed picture emerges but one that overall points to the importance of the firms. The share of firms in the departmental consulting market was less than might be supposed from estimates overseas. But the firms had 'breadth' in the type of consultancies undertaken and the range of departments serviced. Within this ambit, consultancies oriented to reviews of administration appeared the most prevalent. Also, consultancies oriented to financial analysis, either of administrative or programme issues, appeared a forte of the firms. But the firms clearly had broadened beyond this foundation strength and in the direction of broader policy significance. A notable amount of consulting was oriented to 'programme review' as distinct from 'administration review' and to non-financial aspects as well. Moreover, the accumulation of consultancy activity in technical areas such as training and information systems gave the firms the potential to exercise indirect, as well as direct, influence over programmes in the longer run.
2004 Public Policy Network Conference. Refereed Papers presented at the Public Policy Network Conference: Public Policy in Transition (Brisbane, Qld 29 January, 2004) p. 88-113