The UK government's policy paper on transparency in public procurement

In the context of the ongoing reform of public procurement rules in the UK, the government has published a policy paper on its ambitions regarding transparency. As usual, Albert was very quick off the gates and his views are expressed here. Those include some fair criticism in terms of the data that will be made available and also the speed data will be made available with its implications for competition.

The stated ambitions are laudable, with the government aiming to create a 'transparency first' approach to public procurement built upon a central digital platform which will house and aggregate a wealth of procurement related data, from current and future contract opportunities to data around contract performance and spend per contracting authority as well as the list of companies excluded from bidding for public contracts. The ambition is there, but will the resources and system be able to deliver on these lofty goals?

As mentioned in the paper, having a central repository aggregating all this information is preferable to multiple disjointed systems (although these can be made to work well together under the right circumstances). But this centralisation is welcome and certainly the best e-procurement systems I know (Paraguay, Ukraine and North Macedonia) all rely in a good degree of centralisation.

However, while the professed principles make sense (user-centred development; plug directly into systems; proportional levels of transparency) questions will remain in terms of the workload these will add to contracting authorities dealing with public contracts. Hopefully, the key will be in plugging the systems directly to one another so that the relevant data gets captured and sent to the central digital platform. Automating away menial tasks like these is what I suggested on my response to the Green Paper last year so I'm glad to see that idea being picked up and fleshed out. Nonetheless, the devil is always on the details.

Going forward, the government sees procurement as being divided into five stages: planning, tender, award, contract and implementation, with each subject to reporting obligations via notices and opportunities for data to be collected at every point. It is disappointing that notices are still underpinning the system, making this approach fundamentally identical to the current one albeit with more data points aggregated. I feel an opportunity has been missed for moving from a notice based e-procurement system to one that is transaction based as Paraguay has done. Yet another example where the lofty claims of root and branch change do not match reality.

As for the central register of suppliers, the potential is there for this solution to be much better than that of the ESPD (or e-Certis) with the information from suppliers being captured in a single point and then made available to the contracting authorities as needed. To be honest, while I keep an open mind vis-a-vis the ESPD and e-Certis I struggle to see how they can be made efficient under their current framework and design considerations.

Finally, the Open Contracting Data Standard will be adopted by the central digital platform where data will be collated. Definitely worth a *finally*.