The Government is buying millions of pounds of IT systems and services by side-stepping European rules on open competitive tendering - and plans to continue to do so with impunity.
Computer Weekly has learned that the European Commission has recently complained to the Government about possible infringement of tendering regulations on IT purchases.
The EC has raised specific concerns over the way millions of pounds of IT systems and services are procured under framework agreements operated by the Treasury's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA).
The EC has issued "pre-infringement notices", which are, in effect, early informal warnings that the Commission will take the Government to the European Court unless satisfactory explanations are given, or action taken to cease alleged infringing practices.
However, the Government appears to be expanding the use of framework contracts for large-scale IT purchases. Social security secretary Alistair Darling has agreed to award two IT-related contracts worth more than £2.5bn to an EDS-led consortium under framework deals that were not subject to any specific advertised tenders.
It has also emerged that the CCTA is planning to spend up to £2.5bn over five years on framework contracts. More than 800 public sector purchasers using the scheme will be able buy hardware and services without specific open tenders.
The Treasury said the EC's legal action related to the UK's interpretation of framework contracts, not the principle of framework deals. It added that the EC plans to change its tendering rules to accommodate framework contracts.
But Computer Weekly understands that the changes planned by the EC will not lead to its acceptance of the UK practice of using vague framework deals to justify awarding large contracts without detailed advertised tenders.