Is publishing contracts the answer?

6 October 2009
The Tories gather in Manchester this week keen to give the impression they are a party tirelessly preparing for government. Procurement is likely to come under scrutiny as shadow chancellor George Osborne readies his scythe. Yesterday his colleague shadow cabinet office minister Francis Maude said a conservative government would publish all contracts over £10,000 online for an "army of armchair auditors" to cast their eye over. Greater transparency, Maude argues, will create greater efficiency. On the surface this seems to be a good idea. But in reality, how many people are likely to take an interest in the detail of the government's housekeeping? And if there is interest or criticism, how will it be dealt with? If every public sector contract is challenged by Joe Bloggs, will a Tory government delay its award at extra cost to the taxpayer? I doubt it.  The party has also missed the fact that many public contracts fall under European laws and OJEU notices can already be accessed online with relative ease. So a shaky start on purchasing policy, but this is unlikely to be the last time procurement is mentioned at the conference.
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