The Ministry of Justice's spending on consultants more than doubled last year and adds up to £61m since 2016, a minister has revealed.

The figures were published in response to a parliamentary question by Labour's Peter Dowd MP. They show that in 2018 the ministry spent £35.6m on consultants. The previous year's total was £15.4m, itself up from £7.2m in 2016. Spending this year has been £2.7m so far. The spend, which adds up to £60,926,130.12, includes the ministry's arms-length bodies.

Justice minister Edward Argar said consultants are engaged to deliver short-term projects where specialist skills are not available within the organisation.

Argar said: ‘As part of the governance process, approvals are sought from finance business partner, HR business partner and the director general to ensure that project outcomes and budget are validated and to seek confirmation that internal resource is not available to deliver either due to the specialist nature of the project or due to capacity issues enabling delivery within the project timescales.’

By hiring consultants, Argar said, ‘the department can save on salary, national insurance and pension costs associated with permanently employing individuals whose skills may not be needed after a set period’.

Earlier this month justice minister Lucy Frazer QC revealed that HM Courts & Tribunals Service planned to spend £20.5m on consultants in the 2018-19 financial year.

The bulk of the spend, £18m, was going to PwC, which is a delivery partner in HMCTS's reform programme. When the ministry confirmed the PwC contract last year, it said working with the accountancy giant would help to gradually decrease reliance on external support.

The ministry told the Gazette last year that it had a separate contract with a company called Methods for £1.3m to deliver the 'Judicial Change Leadership and Engagement' programme, which will achieve 14 outcomes, including an operating model for how the judiciary will work in 2022. However, the list published by Frazer this month states that the forecast spend for Methods Business & Digital Technology Ltd for 2018-19 is £2.1m.

Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice, questioned HMCTS's consultancy spend at the start of last year. Today, she said: 'The Ministry of Justice and HMCTS are spending significant sums on consultancies in a time of austerity. But information about the contracts is scarce. It would be great to understand more about who this money is going to, what they are contracted to do and how the work done is being monitored.'