"To highlight the risk of consultants, her current theme, Mazzucato goes back to the Apollo space programme, where Nasa’s director of procurement in the 1960s warned that the agency was at risk of being 'captured by brochuremanship.' In recent times, Covid has been a bonanza for consultants: the UK was paying Deloitte £1mn a day for its work on testing and contact tracing."

The theory is simple. When organisations face challenges, they bring in high-IQ, high-octane outsiders with specialist skills and new ideas. Although the outsiders cost a lot, they don’t stay long and they more than pay their way by improving efficiency. No one ever got fired for hiring McKinsey.

The reality has long been more complex. What do these outsiders — strategy consultants, such as the ‘Big Three’ of McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group — really know? Critics say their ideas are often ones that the hiring organisation has already thought of. There are some complete disasters, such as McKinsey’s work promoting opioids.

Yet consultants, supposedly brought in for short projects, never seem to leave. If Mariana Mazzucato were afraid of controversy, she might leave this well-rehearsed debate alone. But Mazzucato, a fast-talking, 54-year-old economist at University College London, leans into intellectual combat.

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