24 November 2010 | Angeline Albert and Lindsay Clark
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the government’s knowledge of its suppliers has improved since it published details of spending over £25,000 online last Friday.
Speaking today at the "Delivering more for less: Efficiency, Reform and Accountability" conference, Maude said that those analysing the data from outside government had come up with better spending information than was already available.
“Last Friday we published spend data of government departments over £25,000,” he said. Soon after, these “hackers” were able to aggregate the figures and tell how much the government was spending with individual suppliers.
“I wish I had that data when I was renegotiating supplier contracts over the summer,” he told the conference in London.
“We just didn’t have that information. For example, we found the eventual aggregated spend with one company tended to be 20 times more than what we thought.”
Maude’s comments follow a statement this week from the Cabinet Office that said central government is nearing the end of the first phase in renegotiating contracts with 19 of its largest suppliers.
The Cabinet Office, which has led renegotiation of contracts with firms including Logica, Capgemini and Atos Origin, said the programme had never been attempted before and was nearly finished. It was necessary to help reduce the government’s deficit, a cornerstone of the coalition government’s policy.
The Cabinet Office statement said: “The work doesn’t stop here. The next, more strategic, phase is just as important and will involve more benefits for all parties and a new more centralised approach to dealing with suppliers.
“We have substantially changed the way we do business and now we need to build on the really positive engagement of the past few months. This means in the future there will be new opportunities for businesses of all sizes, but also further savings for us.”
The statement also offered a tacit admission of the legal difficulty in renegotiating contracts that are subject to European procurement law.
“Government takes into account all relevant legal case law when negotiating contracts," it said. "Owing to commercial confidentiality, it would be inappropriate to go into any specific detail of the negotiations that have taken place.”
It added: “We set ourselves a difficult challenge: renegotiating contracts in this way had never been done by government before, but the current financial situation meant there was simply no time to waste.
"We had to start getting a better deal for taxpayers quickly and doing everything we could to take the cost out of government, not the front line.”