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.

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