Government must ‘level the playing field’ for Whitehall buying

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Aug 04, 2017
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Small businesses alleged that the timescales for completing contracts were too tight

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Investigations into government procurement contracts increased significantly over the last year, as lawyers claimed that Whitehall faces growing pressure to cut wasted costs on outside providers.

A review of government figures has revealed that there was a 14 per cent rise in the number of investigations into Whitehall deals, to a total of 92 in 2016-17. In a third of those investigations the contracts were ultimately adjusted, with lawyers claiming that billions of pounds will have been wasted.

The figures came from a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Cabinet office by the London law firm EMW. They found that most complaints over government contracts were brought by smaller businesses.

Complaints alleged that the tendering process for contracts often involved onerous pre-qualification questionnaires. The law firm said that these have since been simplified for some contracts.

Complaints also alleged that timescales over which contracts had to be completed were too tight. Again, the law firm said that recently a system has been introduced to split contracts into smaller jobs to make deadlines more manageable.

“It’s good to see the government tackling contract complaints head-on,” said James Geary, the head of commercial contracts at EMW. “It is important a balance is achieved between government spending with large companies and with SMEs. Increasing direct spend, rather than indirect, with SMEs will also help integrate them better into procurement processes and supply chains.”

He recommended that ministers consider “measures to level the playing field, such as by ensuring SMEs are paid on time and by standardising the procurement process between different departments”.

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