Legal threat protection for public sector G-Cloud users on the way

G-Cloud programme director Tony Singleton says work is under way to protect would-be cloud buyers from legal action

G-Cloud programme director Tony Singleton has assured the public sector that any legal concerns they have about using the procurement framework are being addressed.

Fears that would-be cloud buyers might face legal action for failing to comply with the rules on procuring services through the framework were first raised in February 2014 in an open letter to Government Digital Services (GDS).

The letter, signed by a mix of G-Cloud suppliers, stakeholders and legal firms, said that poor understanding of the rules governing how to buy services could leave users that flout them – unwittingly or not – at risk of legal action.

“As opportunities through the framework become larger (and more valuable to suppliers), there is an increased risk of challenge from those suppliers who are losing revenues to G-Cloud,” the letter said.

“A successful challenge could potentially damage the integrity of the initiative, and what it promises to deliver to the UK public sector.”

Speaking at Cloud Expo Europe in London today, Singleton admitted that the risk of legal action had deterred some would-be G-Cloud buyers from using the framework.

“One thing we do know from our user research is that the one thing that scares public sector buyers more than anything else is doing something wrong with the framework and then being open to legal challenge,” he said.

To reduce the risk to buyers, the open letter proposed a system that would allow suppliers to report instances of rule-breaking to G-Cloud and Crown Commercial Services.

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Then, if users continued to make the same mistakes, corrective action could be taken.

During his keynote, Singleton stopped short of explaining exactly how the issue would be tackled, but said plans are afoot to ensure the marketplace is fully compliant.

Singleton’s pledge was among a number of “action points” he presented to Cloud Expo attendees about the improvements the government is planning to make to G-Cloud in the coming months.

These would help to capitalise on some of the framework’s successes to date, said Singleton, who highlighted the growing number of small businesses from outside south-east England that are now securing business through it.

Plans include taking steps to drive up awareness of the framework across government, so it becomes more widely used, and make it easier for buyers to obtain services through it without having to consult with third parties, he said.

Singleton emphasised the benefits of using the framework over some more traditional methods of public sector IT procurement, from a cost and time point of view.

For example, he said people who use G-Cloud rather than the Official Journal of the European Union to distribute details of their IT tenders tend to save about £23,000 on procurement costs.

“It’s a lot, lot faster than trying to do an OJEU,” he added. “It literally takes days, whereas an OJEU takes six months if you’re lucky and have a fair wind behind you.”

Singleton said another of his objectives is to establish how much total IT spend could one day be put through the government’s digital marketplace – a question he is often asked.

“I want to work with technology leaders across government to look at their future pipelines to find out the scale of things that could go through the digital marketplace to make sure everything is being used to its full potential,” he said.

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