There’s an intriguing article in today’s The Times headed ‘Civil servant spent £73,000 on consultant to prepare himself for grilling by MPs.’

The mandarin in question is Tim Donohoe, head of the ‘much-criticised £11.4 billion NHS IT scheme.’

The grilling in question is his appearance before the Public Accounts Committee last month.

It’s easy for newspapers to twist this kind of thing to make headlines. And it’s too easy for supposedly outraged politicians, like Steve Barclay MP who sits on the Committee, to claim ‘This is part of a wider cover-up culture in the pubic sector which focuses too much on PR rather than delivering high quality services.’

The article doesn’t go into who the consultant was or what support he or she provided. But, apparently unlike the newspaper and the Committee members, I see nothing wrong in principle here.

There’s nothing dodgy about seeking external support and training to improve your ability to fulfil important aspects of your job. Public officials receive training in staff management, time management, project planning and so on.  In Donohoe’s case, accounting for a massive project to a parliamentary committee was an important part of his role.

Nor do I necessarily see anything wrong with the consultant’s reported daily rate of £1,714. This is high; but he/she may be extremely effective.

The truly outrageous part of this story is that Donohoe apparently received no fewer than 52 days’ coaching from the consultant to help him prepare for the meeting.  Fifty two days! For one meeting.

Now that really is mind boggling …