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Out with the old?: What does the majority Conservative Government need to learn from the minority one about procuring IT?

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As the new (but old) Conservative Government continues to bed in this week, there remains a certain amount of uncertainty as to the likely impact that new cabinet members, or indeed future Conservative policy may have on digitising the Government. In the build up to the election there was lots of media attention in the tech press as to what changes a new government might bring. Speculation abounded over the future of G-cloud 5 (following its extension) and who would be the advocate for the Government Digital Service (GDS) following Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude's announcement that he wouldn't be standing.

A week on and we know that we're likely to get more of the same with perhaps a few changes that the Lib Dems can't prevent, but just what might these involve and what can the present Government learn from its previous actions when it comes to buying IT?

Prior to the coalition the Government's approach to procuring technology (well everything really) was very fragmented. There was no central body with responsibility for managing procurement in its entirety. Faced with strict austerity measures and budget cuts the coalition quickly realised that this approach was wasting money on a large scale. No economies of scale were gained by buying collaboratively and often one department was receiving a quite differing level of service to another.

There is a now infamous example of a buying framework that the last Labour Government introduced that listed a cable as costing £60. The exact same cable could be bought and delivered on Amazon for £20. Preferred suppliers were able to secure exclusive deals that weren't subject to scrutiny that public and competitive projects were.

The advent of the Crown Commercial Services (CCS) responsible for technology purchasing under the coalition changed that mentality entirely. It made clear that the Government was a single 'company' and established buying frameworks that are able to deliver savings through competitive pricing and economies of scale.  

G-cloud is a great example of how successful frameworks are delivering real benefits to the public sector and to the companies delivering that technology to them.

Firstly G-cloud forced all of the suppliers to make their pricing public up front. This eradicated over-priced components, such as the £60 cable, as each supplier on the framework listed their most competitive prices. Since these prices are publicly available and shared amongst suppliers, it ensures that suppliers remain competitive.

The CCS has also ensured that suppliers provide management information on each project delivered so they can monitor suppliers and ensure that each department is receiving value for money in comparison to other projects across Government.

The coalition also introduced 'Dynamic Purchasing System' (DPS) frameworks. These moved away from traditional frameworks that featured a small number of suppliers in a fixed environment so there was little competition and next to no pricing refresh. Within these traditional frameworks large (and mainly US) companies were favoured and SMEs had little or no chance of winning business.

DPS frameworks, such as G-cloud, are very different. G-cloud has over 1,400 suppliers in its latest iteration. Already on version six since its inception 3 years ago, G-cloud suppliers can update their submissions annually helping to keep the framework highly competitive.

As a senior bid manager here at Redcentric, I spend a lot of my time consulting on tenders and projects for the delivery of IT for the public sector. I have seen the procurement process improve immeasurably since the introduction of the CCS and the DPS frameworks. It would be a travesty for the Government to move away from the competitive environment it created under the coalition. However, since its mandate is likely to be more of the same, I think that we can look forward to the CCS's continued and welcome presence.

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