Buyers split on two-line sentences in contracts

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
1 October 2015

Buyers are divided on the possibility of limiting sentences in contracts to no more than two lines, according to a poll.

The SM Jury voted six in favour and six against when asked if the limit, which the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) is aiming to achieve as part of efforts to simplify deals, was feasible.

John Milne, procurement consultant at Hampco, voted ‘yes’. “Every sentence can be condensed to less than two lines,” he said. “It is a common ploy for contract compilers to over-complicate the wording in order to discourage unwanted applicants.

“This does not lead to open and fair competition and needs to be avoided. As always I would implore buyers to simplify all instructions and thereby derive better responses and more cost effective solutions.”

Elaine Porteus, a procurement consultant, agreed. “The optimum sentence length is 15 to 20 words,” she said. “Definitely fewer than two lines and no more than twenty-two words. Nothing the government needs to say in contracts needs more than two lines.”

Brian Grew, senior vice president of commercial relationships at Live Nation, also voted ‘yes’. “Contractual language is a code that has developed over time and through judicial interpretation with many standard clauses,” he said. “It is incumbent on those dealing with contracts to understand what they are reading or to get advice before committing.”

However, others were unconvinced the target was achievable.

Nic Porter, managing director at Procuring Group, voted ‘no’. “As a metric of success this is completely meaningless,” he said. “What matters is whether the contracts have good content.”

Chris Graves, head of procurement services at YPO, was also in the ‘no’ camp. “I’m all for making things simpler and perhaps enforcing this rule will make buyers think more clearly about the language they use,” he said. “However, by enforcing a two-line limit on sentences, short cuts could be taken which could mean misunderstanding resulting in poor quality bids and tender delays as additional clarifications are sought.”

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