24 February 2000 | David Arminas
Tendering on the Internet will be one of the first initiatives of the government's central procurement agency, the Office of Government Commerce, when it starts up on 1 April, according to its first chief executive.
"There are substantial opportunities to be secured by accelerating the use of e-commerce across government in the way it interacts with its suppliers," said Peter Gershon, who is currently chief operating officer of BAe Systems. "There will be much greater use of the procurement card and e-tendering."
"We are in the tendering process for e-tendering and the e-catalogue of suppliers," said Brian Rigby, head of the procurement directorate at the Treasury, which has been in the forefront of setting up the OGC. "The successful bidder will probably be announced in a month's time," said Rigby, who will be the OGC's deputy chief executive.
Both Gershon and Rigby were appointed this month. Gershon's remit is based on his own report of a year ago, the Review of Civil Procurement in Central Government. In it, he focused on a single one-stop shop that combines the procurement resources of all of the government's departments and agencies.
The OGC is spearheading the government's aim of saving £1 billion a year on its annual procurement spend of £13 billion. The government has set a target of conducting 90 per cent of its low-value, high-volume procurement electronically by 2002.
"Two things are going to start up in the spring," said Rigby. "One is e-tendering, where we put the tender documents on the web, choose a supplier, and give them a password to download. The cost of tendering can vary enormously, and the people who are involved in these transactional activities can be retrained in higher value-added activities."
Security in electronic tendering remains a major concern for all users, according to Kevin Ginty, technical manager of the University of Sunderland's Centre for E-Commerce.
"One major problem is also educating people to upload documents on to a website," said Ginty, who is involved with website tendering pilots for some European Union contracts.
Ginty believes the government is particularly keen for e-tendering because of recent EU legislation reducing the statutory time for tendering from 52 days to less than four weeks.
Purchasing cards will be crucial to the OGC's electronic catalogue of approved suppliers. In December, the government trebled the target for procurement card spend to £55 million in 2000 - up from £18 million in 1999, the card's second year of use.
Some procurement officials have said they are frustrated because they do not yet know the nature of their relationship with the new agency.
Gershon has stated in the past he has no centralising ideas and the OGC will act as an enabler. Aggregate buying for best value and the spread of best practice is said to be the OGC's mantra.