18 May 2000 | Elizabeth Bellamy
The Department of Trade and Industry has launched what it claims is the government's first online procurement guide that is available to the public.
Published earlier this month only on the Internet, the guide, Procurement Manual 2000, is expected to be accessed by more than 150 users across the DTI, government agencies, including the Patent Office and the Employment Tribunal Service, and non-departmental public bodies.
Ian Tough, the DTI's head of procurement, said the move to put the manual on the net was part of a ground-breaking bid to comply with the public sector's electronic and open-government agendas. "It will enable suppliers, as well as the world at large, to see what we do," he said.
There would be no hard copies published, said Roger Nickless, a consultant at the DTI and editor of the manual. "The old, hard-bound manual is finished, gone," he told a DTI procurement symposium this month.
The guide had been produced "with electronic means of communication in mind", Nickless added. The department's last procurement manual was produced in print in 1994, but was "tediously repetitive", so hypertext links have been added to the new web edition to reduce this, he explained.
Sir Michael Scholar, permanent secretary at the DTI, said the department's purchasing was becoming increasingly complex. He added that the bulk of its purchasing would be done online within the next two years.
The department, which has an annual goods and services spend of £500 million, is also undergoing a review of its purchasing structure, on which Tough is due to report back to the government this autumn.
"The DTI is one of the most devolved departments in its purchasing practice," Tough told SM. But he would not be drawn on whether the function would become more centralised or take on more staff in the future.
Scholar said that there had been an increase in purchasing activity at the DTI, but that performance "had been variable". "There is a myth that civil-service purchasing's main task is to buy as cheaply as possible," he said, "but more than 80 per cent of the DTI's procurement is of complicated services."
While Tough said that the guide would not directly help the department to achieve the Office of Government Commerce's target of conducting 90 per cent of routine purchases electronically by next April, it would help to create the right environment.
Peter Gershon, the OGC's chief executive, told the symposium that an external review of the office's e-commerce strategy is due back at the end of this month. He would not comment on whether this target was achievable, but said the use of government purchasing cards would contribute towards meeting it.