UK government commits to Open Contracting Data Standard

The UK government has committed to a data standard which claims it will transform procurement in the UK and improve transparency

The UK government has committed to a data standard which claims it will transform procurement in the UK and make government procurement contracts more transparent.

The Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) will give governments the tools to open and share their procurement data. The UK will join Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia and Paraguay in committing to the standard.

Incoming executive director of the Open Contracting Partnership Gavin Hayman said it's time to make sure public resources are spent openly, effectively and efficiently, ending secret deals between governments and companies.

"Having accessible, comparable data covering the key items of information in a deal is key to achieving this objective," he said.

Through the OCDS, governments will be able to to drive growth and increase public engagement and trust in procurement. This project aims to promote disclosure and participation in public contracting by creating a simple, machine-readable and easy-to-understand open data standard.

The first version of OCDS, launched on 19 November 2014, sets out key documents and data that should be published at each stage of procurement.

The standard uses technology platforms and a collaborative online portal to ensure contracting data is accessible to everyone.

OCDS was produced by the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP), developed by the World Wide Web Foundation through a project supported by the Omidyar Network and the World Bank. It hopes the new project will shine a light on how trillions of dollars of public money is spent.

Ian Makgill, managing director of Spend Network, which analyses government data, said an open standard for contracting was vital to develop open procurement data across the world.

“The standard will allow firms like ours to confidently process and interpret procurement data from all over the globe,” he added. “We are working to adopt the standard in all our work, and look forward to being able to publish a set of UK contract data in the new year.”

The decision by the UK government to commit to the open standard fits in with its transparency initiative to provide greater visibility around IT procurement.

Government commitment to greater visibility

In June 2014, the government committed to providing greater visibility around suppliers’ performance, costs and revenues when outsourcing services.

A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report in March 2014 accused the government of failing to manage private companies that provide outsourced services, and said these contractors had to be more ethical when dealing with the government.  

The report followed hearings with major suppliers Atos, Capita, G4S and Serco, and with the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice. It stated: “Government needs a far more professional and skilled approach to managing contracts and contractors, and contractors need to demonstrate the high standards of ethics expected in the conduct of public business, and be more transparent about their performance and costs.”

The government spends £187bn a year on goods and services from third parties, with about half of this contracted to outsourcers. IT products and services make up a major part of this spend.

One of the measures suggested in the report was to explore the workings of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and how it could be extended to increase the transparency of contracts.

In particular, the PAC report suggested neither the Cabinet Office nor government departments should routinely use commercial confidentiality as a reason for withholding information about contracts with private providers. The report said a clear explanation of exceptions must be provided, and the government has agreed to this.

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