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Normalising transparency

In its recent Procurement Policy Note “The Transparency of Suppliers and Government to the Public”, Crown Commercial Service has given more weight to the presumption of disclosure in procurement processes.  Authorities are now expected not to rely on exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act and to disclose unless the disclosure relates very specifically to commercial confidentiality.  This raises the question of where to draw the line.

The biggest impact from any change to the guidance on disclosure is likely to relate to the incumbent supplier’s delivery, performance, costs and payments.  This information would previously be considered commercially sensitive, but the new rules may open up far more of this data to the incumbent’s competitors – particularly useful information to have before any competition.

Currently, when issuing a tender invitation, Authorities must disclose the criteria, weights and articulate how the best value supplier will be determined.    Further disclosure requirements could include why certain criteria were selected, why weighting is being applied to certain factors or why a particular approach to value for money is being used.   All too often the mechanics/mathematics of the assessment scheme are poorly understood or inadequately tested.  Maintaining a record of why criteria were selected, the analysis that has been undertaken and how best value will be determined could become the norm.  As thought leaders in this space, Commerce Decisions is seeing better outcomes from engaging industry more closely in this way.  Auditors are also positive about the rigour of the approaches.

In the debrief process, Authorities are expected to provide the scores of each bidder, the reasons/rationale for their scores and the relative advantages of the winning bidder.   The scores provided are very often the Authority view – i.e. a harmonised score following consensus or averaging.  Authorities have resisted giving the independent scores of the individual evaluators, in case these conflict or show uncertainties in the decision making.  In our experience, these independent scores reflect the different viewpoints of the team and following discussion lead to a better educated Authority view point.  Use of averaging would be very difficult to sustain going forward and may introduce significant risk of protest/challenge.

If there were a requirement for further disclosure, it could legitimately be expected that a bidder could request more detail in a debrief regarding their competitiveness.  Where they were strong or weak in relation to all competitors – not just the winner.

These pressures aren’t limited to the UK; it’s a conundrum for government authorities internationally.  The rise of access to information legislation in Europe, Australia, Canada, USA and elsewhere may develop into full disclosure – i.e. bidders are given all the information they need to make informed decisions…   An interesting thought!

This guidance highlights the need for a “proactive approach to information management”, something  to which Commerce Decisions, through its methods and software, is very well aligned.  For more information on our solutions, contact us or take a look at our the Solutions and Services areas of our website.