14 December 2006 | Antony Barton
Government departments must work in partnership with suppliers if projects involving IT are to be successful, according to the chief executive of the OGC.
Addressing a group of MPs in November, John Oughton also said procurement processes needed to be shorter and government departments should be as demanding as the private sector when it comes to purchasing.
The remarks were given as evidence to the Committee of Public Accounts in response to the National Audit Office report, Delivering successful IT-enabled business change
. It draws on examples of IT implementation in public and private sectors worldwide to emphasise the need for accountability and a constructive partnership with suppliers.
Oughton said this would be more beneficial than a fixed contract with penalties for non-performance. He said "adversarial contracting ends in a lose-lose situation". One of the reasons the Department for Work and Pensions' launch of Pension Credit was successful, he said, was the "co-operative relationship between the buyer and supplier".
Yet the committee's Dr John Pugh referred to the indefinite duration of partnerships and the difficulty of controlling costs without fixed contracts. Oughton responded that such fears would be unfounded if the government established a rigorous and competitive selection process to select appropriate and trustworthy suppliers for each project.
He said that the Terminal 5 construction at Heathrow was a good example of a client and supplier partnership: "It was not a soft and sloppy arrangement. It was a tough and very hard thing to do, but building those relationships meant that everybody was equally responsible... for ensuring that the risks and costs were properly controlled."
Oughton also defended his office's framework agreements when the committee's Austin Mitchell accused them of sounding "a bit makeshift". He said it was a way to pre-select suppliers who had the appropriate skills and who could be employed swiftly by departments.
Oughton said the time it took to move from the bidding process to negotiating the final contract was "most worrying" and a process "that we would wish to see accelerated". He insisted that government was trying to make its contracts clearer and thought it was important "that the people in whom we have trust do the job".