The UK government has not signed up to a new open contracting data standard that was launched globally yesterday, despite a public commitment to open contracting.
The Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) – a product of the Open Contract Partnership (OCP) – is a new global standard set up to ensure governments publish contracting data consistently so that all published data is visible and accessible.
Providing a guide on what documents and data should be published at each stage of a contracting process, the OCDS aims to promote transparency over how public money is spent.
The UK has made a public commitment to open contracting in its Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2014-15, published November 2013, but has not yet signed up to the global standard.
Open Contracts are not a new concept for the UK government but have not been that successful. Ministry of Justice perm sec Ursula Brennan acknowledged a failure in the UK’s open contract processes whilst giving evidence to PAC over contract management across the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office on 18, September.
“The critical thing is to ask the right questions. Simply having open book takes you only so far,” Brennan said, adding: “You need to know that you are asking the right question to be able to understand whether you are getting the right answer.”
In a recent interview with CSW, Sally Collier acknowledged that contract management was a “weakness” in the civil service.
Contract management has also come under fire this year from both the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the National Audit Office (NAO).
In March, PAC chair Margaret Hodge called for greater transparency in private sector contracts whilst in September the NAO criticised senior managers for an apparent lack of involvement in contract management and progress.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “In our Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2014-15 the UK committed to endorse open contracting principles; to work to further increase transparency in procurement and contracting and to enhance the scope, breadth and usability of published contractual data.
“Good progress is being made and the Cabinet Office is engaging with civil society and other interested organisations to ensure that UK work remains ambitious.”