John O' Gorman

Better Buying Here We Come

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The UK press is putting UK public sector buying under the microscope. The result is some fascinating insights to the nature of public procurement decisions and an impetus for better buying.

Take for example a recent Guardian article exposing extraordinary spending in respect of web site maintenance and development by a number of public sector bodies.

What is extraordinary?  Well, costs which may be 20 times going market rates and where budget overruns are an annual occurrence.

Imagine the vendor glee at receiving a £360,000 contract to develop 2 websites -that of the UK Supreme Court and Judicial Committee of the Privy Council – sites that any visitor will see are limited in even certain basic aspects of functionality (e.g. RSS).

In the case of the Crown Prosecution Service a Freedom of Information request by The Guardian unearthed a website spend of £370,000 over five years awarded without a tender.

Will The Public Sector Be Brow-Beaten Into Better Buying?

The forensic nature of the UK press’s pursuit of miss-spending can be seen by reference to the FOI request as available online. Nothing is left to chance, as the question below demonstrates:

Q: I would also be grateful to receive full disclosure of the tendering process including proposals of all unsuccessful bidders. Please also detail future budget allocations for public websites where these have been considered.

Unfortunately, the buying organization concerned feelt that such questions go too far, citing public interest and confidentiality of information submitted by 3rd parties as an excuse for withholding the answers.

However, the answer is perhaps less important than the question, in that this intense scrutiny of public buying and its surrounding publicity has in effect put all public sector buyers on notice – ‘we are watching you’, or more to the point ‘we are watching how you spend our money.’

The imperative for better and more transparent buying has become clearer than ever.  Better buying here we come?  Well, let’s hope so!

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