Tories propose transparency plans

11 February 2010

11 February 2010 | Carly Chynoweth

The UK Conservative party has fleshed out plans to publish contracts over £25,000 online if it wins the next election.

The latest section of its draft manifesto, published yesterday, launched a stinging attack on the government’s “terrible record” of managing procurement. It said contract details including performance indicators, break clauses and penalty measures would be made public to cut waste.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said the change - first announced last year - would “enable the public to hold ministers and civil servants to account like never before”.

He added: “This policy will help us to cut government spending, root out waste and empower the public – and bring in a new age of transparency and accountability.”

A spokeswoman for the party said the new disclosure arrangements will exclude defence and security service contracts until a protocol for handling sensitive information can be developed. It will apply to all other central government contracts, as well as quangos and agencies, from the start of January next year. Contracts with all other parts of the public sector will be included “as soon as possible”.

John Cridland, the CBI deputy director-general, described the move as fairly radical and said it could be acceptable as long as safeguards protected commercially sensitive information such as profits. Contracts awarded within the public sector should be subject to the same requirements as those awarded to private sector businesses, he added.

The changes could boost prospects for SME vendors, said Adam Marshall, the director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce. 

“The Conservatives’ plans could improve transparency and ultimately increase procurement opportunities for smaller firms,” he said. “However, safeguards do need to be in place where highly sensitive information is concerned. We would not want this policy to act as a disincentive to any company interested in tendering for public contracts, [as this] could drive down competition.” 

Other announcements in the manifesto included a promise to “get a grip” on existing government ICT projects, call a moratorium on the creation of new ICT projects and establish a rule that no ICT project should cost more than £100 million. “No ICT project will be commissioned without first seeing if it can be done free or at very low cost,” the manifesto stated.

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