Cameron makes public procurement an election issue

Very exciting - David Cameron has made a public procurement issue a centrepiece of his whole strategy (according to commentators and publications such as the Spectator and Prospect).

Here is the relevant section from the speech he made this week.

"A Conservative government will publish all government contracts worth over £25,000 for goods and services in full, including all performance indicators, break clauses and penalty measures. This will enable the public to root out wasteful spending and poorly negotiated contracts, and open up the procurement system to more small businesses."

As a blogger, I'm delighted.  Lots of material here.  As a provider of services to government, I'm fine with this.  I reckon I provide good value, I have no problem with anyone seeing my contracts.  And actually, I can see some business opportunities for those of us prepared to plough through the detail, packaging up information from contracts.  And I am in concept a big supporter of greater transparency in public life.

BUT....there are some major issues that I'm not sure have been thought through.

  • How will seeing a contract once it is in place 'root out wasteful spending'?  Don't you need to avoid entering into the contract to stop the wasteful spending?
  • How will intellectual property and confidentiality be preserved where it is a real issue?
  • What about those contracts (and yes, there really are some) where the government gets a great deal but the supplier will not offer those prices if they become public domain?
  • If publishing creates loads of questions from the public (what does this performance clause mean? Why did you agree that price - we could supply it cheaper?), will public bodies be resourced to handle them?
  • Will this additional scrutiny and the bureaucracy which will inevitably accompany the scheme make it harder to attract people into public sector procurement (I can give you the answer to this one -  'yes').

And are the Conservatives ready for newspapers to start digging into every contract, looking for evidence of 'high prices' or 'favouritism' and linking it to the ex Tory Minister on the Board of the supplier?

My guess is that this will get severely watered down over time.  But  interesting times we live in, interesting times....

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Voices (3)

  1. D:

    Peter, another very useful (and insightful) blog, and whilst I agree with all of the comments (and foresee additional schedules to contracts along similar provision to those to circumvent FOI), the ‘Performance Indicators’ is the real stand out issue for me. How many organisations do you know of that have/use effective performance measures, let along manage them! Maybe there is an opening for a performance measure bible, unless you are already aware of one?

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