Accepted paper:

DFID & the 'Big Four': contracts, consultancy & the private procurement of poverty reduction


Jessica Sklair (University of Cambridge)
Jo-Anna Russon (University of Nottingham)
Paul Gilbert (University of Sussex)
Emma Mawdsley (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

DFID's relationship with the Big Four management consultancy firms has received little attention, despite DFID awarding them £517m worth of contracts between 2015 and 2018. In this paper, we examine the influence played by these firms in the construction and roll-out of the UK's development agenda.

Paper long abstract:

Between 2015 and 2018 the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) awarded £517m worth of contracts to the 'Big Four' audit and management consultancy firms - KPMG, PwC, EY & Deloitte. DFID's relations with the Big Four have been criticised by campaigners for promoting the privatization of public services in the global South (Hilary 2005). However, the Big Four's involvement in development now extends far beyond this, to include the co-construction of development agendas (PwC 2017), implementing business environment reform (KPMG 2016), and facilitating the roll-out of welfare programmes (EY 2014). Meanwhile, Government's broader use of management consultants has been criticised by the National Audit Office, casting doubt on the competitiveness of tendering and 'value for money' (Shaoul et al. 2007), and Parliament has raised concerns regarding DFID's outsourcing of expertise (House of Commons International Development Committee 2017). Nonetheless, studies of the relationship between donor agencies and management consultants are few and far between. Organization and management scholars have only recently begun to ask how consultants position themselves in development networks and disseminate evaluation and implementation frameworks to NGOs (Hayes & Westrup 2014). In this paper, we draw on industry and government reports and open data to examine DFID's use of Big Four consultants. In doing so, we shed light on forms of expertise, managerial techniques and accountability processes that characterise management consultancies' involvement in development contracting, locating the rising influence of management consultants in the specific geographies of multinational consulting firms and the UK's unique history of government contracting.

panel D4
Partnerships in practice: power and inequality in development partnerships with the private sector