From stationary supplies to major infrastructure projects like roads, schools and hospitals governments across the world are increasingly looking to the private sector to supply goods and services to their citizens. With the global value of this sort of outsourced procurement by the public sector now exceeding US$9.5 trillion each year (15% of global GDP)[i] there is also growing pressure on governments to ensure their procurement processes are open, fair and transparent.
As a member of the international Open Government Partnership this has already been on the agenda in the UK for some time, and significant progress has already been made. Now, as we move towards the publication of the UK’s 3rd Open Government National Action Plan in spring, the devolved governments across the UK are engaging with the question of how to embed greater transparency into their contracting processes.
On the 11th April 2016 the Open Contracting Partnership (an independent organisation working internationally with governments, businesses, civil society organisations, academia, and the media to open up government procurement) held a meeting in Edinburgh with representatives from the UK’s 3 devolved governments, and the civil society networks working on Open Government in these areas. The purpose of this meeting was both to raise awareness of what was already being done by each administration to progress this agenda and explore opportunities for further work and collaboration regarding the policy, practice and technology of open contracting.
Reviewing what was already happening in each nation showed that quite a lot is already being done in relation to providing open access to information at the tendering and contracting stages of procurement, particularly through platforms like Public Contracts Scotland, Sell2Wales and eSourcingNI. Sites like these not only allow the wider public to access information regarding public sector contracting but play an important role in establishing a level playing field for businesses of all sizes, especially smaller firms, enabling fairer competition.
The principles of open contracting however are not limited to ensuring a fair and transparent tendering process but extend throughout the whole life-cycle of a contract, allowing for public scrutiny of all aspects of expenditure and delivery. Discussions within the workshop acknowledged that there are currently gaps and inconsistencies in the information routinely published at the post-award stage: including information on contract value; additional conditions; performance management; and termination of contracts. Developing procedures for the systematic disclosure of this information is something which will need to be addressed if governments are to fully commit to implementing the Open Contracting Partnership’sGlobal Principles and Open Contracting Data Standard.
Throughout the course of the afternoon a range of other shared challenges and opportunities were also highlighted which, while initially calling for action at a sub-national level, may also provide opportunities for further collaboration across the UK.
Holding this meeting in Edinburgh, particularly at a time when Scotland has just been approved as one of 15 Open Government Sub-National Pioneers, could be just the impetus the Scottish Government and our civil society network needs to embrace some of the opportunities identified to become world leaders in this field and I, for one, hope we can keep this momentum going.
To keep up to date with what is going on in relation to Open Government in Scotland join the Scottish Open Government forum.
Photo: Jérôme Dessommes – ÉCRIVAINS CONSULT® CC0