The policy aim is to give the public greater access to information on public spending so that public bodies can be held to account where money is not being used in cost effective manner. As a result, under the PPN, as of now all new ICT contracts must be published online by the relevant department in as full detail as possible - provided of course such contracts are not subject to confidentiality clauses. So far so good.
More strikingly, departments "should avoid including confidentiality clauses in current and all future ICT contracts". Although there are limited exceptions on when contractual text can be redacted (eg. national security or personal privacy, IT security and prevention of fraud), the PPN does not exclude from publication commercially sensitive information such as pricing, payment mechanisms, confidential processes or solution architecture.
The PPN says that further guidance will be provided on redactions and exemptions, transparency clauses for contracts and the form of publication. Clearly automatic publication of commercially sensitive information could have a dramatic effect on suppliers to central governement, the content of their bids and indeed their willingness to bid in the first place. Whether this is a feasible approach remains to be seen. It is also unclear how a lack of contractual confidentiality obligations fits with departments' obligations under the procurement regulations and common law.
Most Naked Lawyers suspect that the effects have not been entirely thought through and we expect to see some significant watering down of the concept of full transparency. We'd be interested to hear the views of any public sector IT suppliers out there.
Other changes that are soon to be implemented include:
- the publication on a single website of all new tender documents for contracts of more than £10,000 released after September 2010; and
- all new contracts (ie. non-ICT) to be published in full from January 2011.
Guidance on procurement transparency for local government and the wider public sector is expected soon but will be handled seperately.