Government departments are increasingly dependent on outside consultants to fill procurement skills gaps, with the tendency being particularly pronounced in IT, the Office of Government Commerce has warned.

“Particularly at senior levels, there is a lack of highly capable commercial people. One of the effects of this can be an increased dependence on the services of paid consultants, particularly in the IT arena,” it reported today.

But the DWP under the leadership of CIO Joe Harley won praise for lifting the performance of its IT procurement after a series of high-profile disasters. IT failures were identified as a key factor behind the meltdown of the Child Support Agency, while Jobcentre Plus axed its £143m Benefits Processing Replacement Programme while it was still in the development stage, citing problems with the project’s “process” and the impact of welfare benefit reforms.

“Historically, IT procurement has presented DWP with significant challenge. However, Corporate IT’s commercial strategies are now generally well considered,” the report says. Structured supplier relationship management had “worked well” in the DWP’s IT procurement and the department is now leading cross-government supplier initiatives in the IT marketplace.

The finding follows the first tranche of OGC’s procurement capability review reports – on the former Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Skills shortages in-house were “central to many of the problem areas identified by all three reviews”, an overview report says.

The reviews also highlighted the variable quality of management information processes and data to support procurement across all three departments, and “even in the best department could still be improved”.

OGC chief executive Nigel Smith said: “Having clear and detailed data on current departmental capability is an important step in the process of transforming government procurement.”

The overview paper argues that there is a place for external consultants providing “short-term critical expertise”, but that longer-term deployments “need to be controlled with better skills transfer and succession planning”.