11 April 2002 | Robin Parker
A project aimed at saving millions of pounds by putting government tendering online has collapsed after suppliers said it was too difficult to use.
The Office Of Government Commerce (OGC) has scrapped the pilot for TenderTrust after a year-long trial in 10 government departments.
The £300,000 pilot, set up last year with the Royal Bank of Scotland and software company TrustMarque International, was intended to save government departments and suppliers £50 million over four years.
The OGC insists that e-tendering will go ahead in some form, though a decision will not be made until later this year.
Andrew Smith, chief secretary to the Treasury, admitted to Parliament in December that he would have to revise the target to enable 100 per cent of tenders to be sent and received electronically by the end of this year. The deadline was then extended to the end of February to allay suppliers' security concerns.
An OGC spokesman said 400 suppliers used the system during the trial but many were unhappy that they had to use different tendering systems for each department.
"Too many suppliers are saying it's too much like hard work to bid for government projects," he said. "We're assessing how one system can be put in place for all suppliers so that once they are online they can access any department."
The TenderTrust scheme was aimed at reducing paperwork and was supposed to save the public sector £13 million and suppliers £37 million over four years.
Departments taking part included the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Inland Revenue.
Peter Duschinsky, director of government-backed e-procurement network BuyIT, said the scale and technology behind the project were hugely ambitious.
"Unfortunately, most government spend is on people and services and not suitable for catalogue e-procurement," he said.
The OGC is to continue a separate six-month e-procurement pilot, launched across seven public-sector organisations in January.
According to an interim report published this week, about 120 suppliers have gone live with the system so far.
The pilot will include central government's first e-auctions, for electricity services and IT hardware at the Environment Agency and the Police Information Technology Organisation.