Belgian railways spent more than €600 million on consultancy in two years

Belgian public railway company NMBS/SNCB and infrastructure manager Infrabel spent 612 million euros on consultancy between 2022 and 2022. Based on internal documents from both companies, research media Apache and Médor have exposed this.

Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) had previously said the cost for that period was 44,6 million euros, but the actual amount is thus 15 times higher. According to the minister and the public companies, this can be explained by IT consultancy costs, which were not initially included in the calculation. If one does, the total for the three years comes to 612 million euros.

The whole system calls into question both companies’ ‘brain drain’ and recruitment policies. Because specialized skills are not filled internally, they have to look for external employees, but the profiles sought would be scarce and, therefore, expensive.

War for IT talent

Like so many companies, the railways are currently betting heavily on digitalization. For example, according to Het Laatste Nieuws, some 340 IT consultants worked for NMBS/SNCB last year at an average daily wage of 790 euros. Based on Infrabel’s staff lists, the exact number cannot be determined, but Apache writes that Het Laatste Nieuws’s figure for all railway companies combined is “a serious underestimate”.

“Given the war for talent in the IT world, Infrabel has implemented an internal recruitment strategy for young talent,” the infrastructure manager says. Nevertheless, externals are still needed to fill in specialized skills in cyber security, develop apps for rail traffic management, roll out the European High-Speed Train Control System (ETCS), or manage administrative tasks in HR.

‘Bring competencies in-house’

However, Apache’s research shows that Infrabel, for example, works with the Boston Consulting Group, one of the world’s three largest strategic consulting firms. Infrabel pays up to 9,000 euros a day for their services.

In 2012, the Court of Audit called for “bringing competencies in-house as soon as possible and reducing dependence on external suppliers”. At the end of the first semester of this year, the Court of Audit will formulate its opinion on the consultancy contracts concluded by the Belgian railways between 2020 and 2022.

Just last year, rail boss Sophie Dutordoir came under criticism for a service contract tag NMBS/SNCB subsidiary Ypto signed in 2018 with Briton Hamid Aghassi, who is friends with Dutordoir. The consultant allegedly earned more than the NMBS/SNCB CEO, wrote Het Laatste Nieuws, which uncovered the case.

An internal audit already revealed breaches of public procurement legislation but found “no interference or pressure” from Dutordoir and others. Later, the Brussels prosecutor’s office also found no offenses in the award of the IT consultancy contract. Aghassi was paid 2,200 euros a day for two and a half years.


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