The Coalition’s Transparency Agenda – latest procurement guidance from OGC / ERG

The radio silence from OGC / ERG is leading to a new brand of investigative journalism / blogging called "trawling the OGC website for interesting new stuff".   We commented on the very good frameworks guidance that was "published" by stealth the other week.  Now I find that a whole load of material around transparency has been published (if you know where to look) here and here.  I only realised this last week when a friend in local government pointed it out - Supply Management also picked up on it over the weekend.

There's a lot to take in here, but I thought there were three immediately interesting points.

1. The Efficiency and Reform Group' s Structural Reform Plan made this commitment:  "All new central government tender documents for contracts over £10,000 to be published on a single website from September 2010, with this information to be made available to the public free of charge.. Now, I took that to mean publishing tender opportunities as they were announced i.e. it was bringing forward the work OGC were already doing on the single portal to advertise all contract opportunities.  But reading this new document, it seems to suggest that my assumption was wrong; organisations will publish tender documents (including advert, PQQ and ITT) at the time the tender is issued - which is obviously too late for suppliers to express interest if they have not already done so.  As I say, I might have mis-interpreted this so I will ask OGC for clarification, and,  if this new interpretation is correct, what has happened to the single portal for advertising opportunities idea?

2. I wonder whether there are just a few signs of the Coalition rowing back from their transparency commitment on publishing contracts?  In the Procurement Policy Note it says,

Departments are expected to publish relevant information in full, although redactions are permitted in line with the exemptions provided by the Freedom of Information Act (for example, this may include national security, protection of personal data, commercially sensitive material, amongst other things)......" (my highlighting)

That is the first time I have seen 'commercial sensitivity' suggested as a get-out on publication, and the link back to FOI and the exclusions that are allowed there. Previously we were led to believe it was only national security and similar that would give an exemption to publication.  And of course the statement about the Atos Origin agreement last week talked about big savings for Government but said they couldn't give details for "reasons of commercial confidentiality”, which didn't seem to quite fit with the spirit of full transparency.

3.  The OGC stuff led me onto Treasury guidance on the publication of "all items of spend over £25,000", another transparency commitment.

"Expenditure, for the purposes of this guidance, is all individual invoices, grant payments, expense payments or other such transactions that are over £25,000"

Does that reference to "individual invoices" mean that 12 invoices of £24,999 against the same contract or purchase order do not need to be disclosed?  That would seem to offer a pretty obvious route to (how shall I put it) 'gaming' the system!

I'll come back to what all this might mean for public procurement later this week and also see if we can get clarity on these issues from OGC / CO / HMT.

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