UK launches plan to free up market for government IT contracts

By on 14/09/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Ben Gummer, minister for the Cabinet Office, UK

The UK Cabinet Office has published new guidelines underpinning a drive to open up the market for government technology contracts.

Launched last week in conjunction with the Government Digital Service (GDS), the so-called ‘supplier standard’ outlines six shared commitments that are intended to set a benchmark for government IT and technology procurement.

Ever since the foundation of the GDS in 2010, the UK government has been reforming its approaches to IT procurement and to purchasing from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – and the new guidelines are likely to interest other governments that are also trying to move away from big, monolithic IT contracts and foster a market of smaller, more nimble suppliers.

The government aims to spend 33% of its procurement budget with SMEs by 2020, and technology contracts will form a key part of that goal.

The supplier standard details the government’s expectations of and commitments to the technology companies it hopes will bid for contracts as it looks to open up the field to new players.

It sets out six principles: users first; data as a public asset; services built on open standards and reusable components; simple, clear, fast transactions; ongoing engagement; and transparent contracting.

These concepts are intended to support what the minister for the Cabinet Office, Ben Gummer, said was the government’s intention to move away from large-scale, long-term IT contracts towards more agile partnerships. Large, central public sector IT contracts in the UK have a poor track record, often experiencing budget overruns and delays.

“My message to those who operate and work in this sector is this: no matter how large or how small your company is, this government is open for business. We are a government that wants to work for you,” Gummer said.

“The new supplier standard is just a starting point. We want suppliers, both current and potential, to take note of the key principles and use them to help in the bidding process for government IT and tech projects.”

The supplier standard was developed in partnership with industry body techUK. Its chief executive Julian David said: “In order to achieve the government’s ambition of digitally enabled public services that meet the needs of 21st century Britain, it’s vital that public and private sectors work closely together.

“These six principles are a great step forward in delivering the right collaboration between government and Industry. They will be the basis for opening procurement to companies large and small, exposing government departments to the best innovation our tech sector has to offer, and delivering value for money to the UK taxpayer.”

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About Ben Willis

Ben Willis is a journalist and editor with a varied background reporting on topics including public policy, the environment, renewable energy and international development. His work has appeared in a variety of national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times, as well as numerous specialist business, policy and consumer publications.

One Comment

  1. Jag Patel says:

    It is refreshing to hear that in a clean break with the previous administration, this newly constituted Government has made it clear that it will look upon Small and Medium-sized Enterprises much more favourably, when deciding on how to spend public funds.

    It is now widely accepted that in addition to offering flexibility and adaptability, SMEs bring long-term commitment, original thinking and niche expertise in a way others do not on both, equipment supply & sustainment contracts and service provision contracts for the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, they are the lifeblood of the UK economy and should rightly be given equal access to publicly-funded contracts which have hitherto, been monopolised by the Select Few.

    In any discussion on Prime Contractors and SMEs, it is important to understand the reasons why the former has a need for the latter. The first thing that happens after MoD has released the invitation to tender is that, the ITT recipient dissects his proposed Technical Solution into its component workshare parts and outsources some of them to other Profit Centres, whilst retaining the rest.

    This happens because the ITT recipient does not possess the full range of capabilities in-house to build the entire Technical Solution on his own – hence his requirement for Supply Chain partners, which may include SMEs. It certainly is not due to benevolence on the part of ITT recipients, as people in MoD have been led to believe (by the Select Few). The result is the founding of a commercial relationship between for-profit organisations, large and small, operating in the free market solely for the benefit of Shareholders. It is not for people in the pay of the State to interfere in this business relationship, other than to ensure that:

    (a) Both the ITT recipient and his Supply Chain partners conduct business within the law and prevailing regulatory framework.

    (b) Pay their fair share of business and employee taxes to the Exchequer.

    The other important issue to bear in mind is that irrespective of the size of for-profit organisations (the distinction between the Prime Contractors and SMEs), MoD is obliged to apply the principle of equitable treatment and maintaining impartiality at all times.

    Additionally, there must be a clear separation of roles between MoD as Buyer and Defence Contractors as Sellers, to avoid the possibility of them getting mixed-up and creating confusion.
    @JagPatel3 on twitter

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