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United Kingdom

Open Contracting (UK0067)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Not Attached

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Crown Commercial Service

Support Institution(s): ARTICLE 19, CAFOD, Campaign for Freedom of Information,NC O, Open Contracting Partnership, The Open Data Institute

Policy Areas

Access to Information, Anti-Corruption, E-Government, Fiscal Openness, Legislation & Regulation, Open Contracting and Public Procurement, Open Data, Public Procurement, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information

IRM Review

IRM Report: United Kingdom End-of-Term Report 2016-2018, United Kingdom Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information , Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Objective: To ensure citizens can see a clear public record of how government money is spent on public contracts and with what results.

Status quo: Civil Society tells us that we could open more relevant data, publish it more consistently and in formats that allow it to be more easily analysed. The challenges of working with current published data are a barrier to suppliers and businesses in deciding whether to bid for public sector business, and means third parties are less able to hold government to account for the way public money is spent.

Ambition: This policy will help to bring about a bold shift in the global default of public contracting and procurement from closed to open, supporting fair and effective contracting that will reduce fraud and corruption, save governments money and time, create more business opportunities for small and medium sized businesses, and empower civil society oversight and citizen engagement and innovation in service delivery. This represents a transformative commitment to transparency and we are the first G7 country to implement this.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

5. Open contracting

Commitment Text:To implement the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) in the Crown Commercial Service's (CCS) operations by October 2016; we will also begin applying this approach to major infrastructure projects, starting with High Speed Two (HS2), and rolling out OCDS across government thereafter.

Objective:To ensure citizens can see a clear public record of how government money is spent on public contracts and with what results.

Status quo:Civil Society tells us that we could open more relevant data, publish it more consistently and in formats that allow it to be more easily analysed. The challenges of working with current published data are a barrier to suppliers and businesses in deciding whether to bid for public sector business, and means third parties are less able to hold government to account for the way public money is spent.

Ambition:This policy will help to bring about a bold shift in the global default of public contracting and procurement from closed to open, supporting fair and effective contracting that will reduce fraud and corruption, save governments money and time, create more business opportunities for small and medium sized businesses, and empower civil society oversight and citizen engagement and innovation in service delivery. This represents a transformative commitment to transparency and we are the first G7 country to implement this.

Milestone:

1. Open Contracting Data Standard to be implemented on Crown Commercial Service procurement

Responsible institution: Crown Commercial Service

Supporting institution(s): All government departments, ARTICLE 19, CAFOD, Campaign for Freedom of Information, NCVO, Open Contracting Partnership, The Open Data Institute

Start date: May 2016

End date: June 2018

Commitment Aim:

This commitment on Open Contracting links to earlier work in the UK's previous action plan towards opening up contracting in the UK, and a series of central and local government initiatives to make contracts more transparent over the past decade.

Status

Midterm: Complete

The commitment was complete at the end of the first year - albeit slightly delayed because of problems with some historical data on the site.[Note 36: UK government ‘OGP UK National Action Plan 2016/18

Commitment progress update, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/UK_6-month-progress-update_20161213.pdf; Cabinet Office Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18: July 2017, Commitment Progress Updates (commitment update for July 2017) pre-publication passed to author ] Civil society was concerned that some infrastructure data was incomplete and felt that more expansive ideas were not added to the commitment, as originally envisioned.[Note 37: Reponses by Tim Davies to the public consultation] The updated Contracts Finder is now available in the OCDS format. Data from the Contracts Finder is also available on data.gov.uk and can be queried and explored by users.[Note 38: Gov.uk, ‘Contracts Finder', https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/Search ] The site is active and has been updated regularly.[Note 39: Gov.uk, ‘Contracts Finder', https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/Notice/Summary ] In August 2017, 250 separate contracts relating to the high-speed rail development were available to the public via the Contracts Finder. According the November 2017 update, Contract Finder had ‘76,466 visitors in October 2017… and approximately 100,000 email alerts to subscribers per week'.[Note 40: Cabinet Office (2017), Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18: November 2017 Commitment Progress Updates, https://www.opengovernment.org.uk/resource/og-nap-2016-18-november-2017-commitment-progress-updates/]

The Crown Commercial Service established a small steering group, which included representatives of the Open Data Institute, service users, CSO groups and the Open Contracting Partnership. This group met 3-4 times a year and provided important help and feedback.[Note 41: Interview with Tim Davies, Open Contracting Partnership, 4 September 2017; Interview with Andrew Bowen, CCS, August 2017.]

Although the commitment was complete by the end of the first year, Crown Commercial continued to work on updating ‘corporate identifiers' and to ‘identify contractors to publish supply chain notices'. The final update reported a continued increase in use:

• 82,030 visitors in February 2018, up from 76,466 visitors in October 2017.

• 1,211,016 page views in February 2018 up from 784,7171 page views in October 2017.

• 38,344 individual users (up from 32,794 in October 2017) from 25,149 organisations, 16,075 (63%) of which are SMEs.[Note 42: UK government (2018), 2016-18 Open Government Action Plan: April 2018 Commitment Progress Updates, https://www.opengovernment.org.uk/resource/2016-18-open-government-action-plan-april-2018-commitment-progress-updates/]

In addition, a ‘joint ‘Contracting 5' working group' of Colombia, France, Mexico, the Ukraine and Argentina was created to ‘share C5 experiences of implementing open contracting'.

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Marginal

The developments in the commitment built on previous innovations in the UK's third action plan and further back. In terms of access to information, compared with the past, more data was made available to the public about various parts of contracting and on a timelier (in some cases daily) basis. Statistics on usage showed a continued increase in public interest and use of the data. There was also improved work on the format and completeness of data, as well as work merging it, which was evidence of continued use of technological innovation to enable public involvement.

The Open Contracting Partnership said, ‘Crown Commercial Service has taken on an ambitious and important task' with ‘major progress...achieved to publish daily open data based on the Open Contracting Data Standard'.[Note 43: Cabinet Office ‘Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2016-18:

Mid-term Self Assessment Report' (UK government report September 2017) passed to author pre-publication.] It continued ‘while there is still work to be done to improve quality and completeness of information, the strong focus of the team on user needs, stakeholder engagement bodes well for 2017 and beyond'.[Note 44: Ibid.] However, CSOs were disappointed at the commitment as a whole and felt it was obeying ‘the letter' but not ‘the spirit' of the reforms. CSOs hoped that the contracting data would link to the newly published Beneficial Ownership information on the Person with Significant Control register, although no specific milestone was given in the text and the government disagreed that this was an aim and did not feel that this had been expressed (see Commitment 1).[Note 45: Interview with Tim Davies, Open Contracting Partnership, 4 September 2017; Companies House ‘The New People with Significant Control Register', https://companieshouse.blog.gov.uk/2016/04/13/the-new-people-with-significant-control-register/ ] There was also a sense that there was a lack of Ministerial interest in the topic over the past year.

Carried Forward?

As Tim Davies pointed out, open contracting had been a theme of OGP's second and third action plans in the UK. Despite this continued push, the high-profile collapse of government contractor Carillion in spring 2018 showed the ongoing limitations and secrecy around procurement in the UK. Tim Davies recommended a more local focus for future open contracting work.[Note 46: Tim Davies blog post, ‘Where next for Open Contracting in the UK?', 2 February 2018, http://www.timdavies.org.uk/2018/02/02/where-next-for-open-contracting-in-the-uk/ ]

The UK government's consultation on the national action plan for Open Government 2018 – 2020 suggested a similar approach, with a possible continuation of open contracting focused on the local level (though this is a suggestion and not government policy). This would be done by creating local level coalitions to push for change and by ‘encouraging local authorities to publish all of the data they can... to make it easier for residents to see how organisations are performing.[Note 47: UK Government (2018), Consultation draft of the National Action Plan for Open Government 2018 – 2020, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XGUs6X8EHSOm00U-rX2_8cAoq7MnDsBjnetQeW0vnzA/edit#heading=h.y5i6179pcs8d],[Note 48: Ibid.]


Commitments

Open Government Partnership