The UK National Action Plan for Open Government 2021-2023 - GOV.UK acknowledged that
“… although there is increasing compliance with the requirement to publish contract opportunities and awards on Contracts finder, there are still data gaps and limitations that make it difficult for the public sector, the private sector, civil society organisations and citizens to understand the full pattern of government procurement spend”
To try and address the compliance issue, NAP5 contained the following highlighted milestones carried forward from NAP4:
A year before NAP5 was published, the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, said in a debate about Covid-19: Road Map in the House of Commons on 22 February 2021:
“Contained within that question was possibly another suggestion that we could have done things differently with the procurement of PPE. All I will say is that the contracts are there on the record for everybody to see…”
However, they weren’t and they still aren’t and the missing Covid contracts are worth billions of pounds - check out this article published on 19 June 2023 to find out more Hundreds of COVID-Related Contract Documents – Worth More Than £7 Billion – Have Still Not Been Published- Despite Government claims, a total of 272 contracts by NHS England and NHS Supply Chain Coordination have not been made public (Stephen Delahunty and Max Colbert, Author at Byline Times)
So it is clear that if anything the level of compliance of contracting authorities in meeting their transparency obligations has not improved, despite the targets in NAP5, and has in fact deteriorated significantly and its attracting attention in Parliament:
It is disappointing that the government has not met its target to issue twice-yearly reports on progress in meeting the Open Contracting milestones. Had they done so, the ongoing non-compliance with PCR2015 and Cabinet Office procurement policy notes (PPNs) would have had more visibility and maybe the problem with the outstanding publication of CANs and contract documents would have been taken up by the Cabinet Office with the contracting authorities concerned (mainly NHS England and Supply Chain Co-ordination Ltd) resulting in their publication. That said, we need to be realistic here as this blog highlights how widespread the non-compliance problem is: Government [Cabinet Office] fails again to publish Covid contracts worth £248m published on 12th January 2023
With the Covid-19 inquiry due to start its work on Module 5 – Government Procurement in October of this year, I believe that it is incredibly important that all the outstanding Contract Award Notices and contract documents are published on Contracts Finder without further delay so that the Inquiry has access to all the Covid-19 contract information.
For this reason, I’ve suggested the following for NAP6:
The Covid-19 Inquiry should have access to all Covid-19 contract data and contract documents, and the logical place to find that information is Contracts Finder, particularly given the government’s publication policies that applied then and apply now. The NAP 6 should include an action for the Cabinet Office to ask contracting authorities to check whether they have published Contract Award notices with accurate contract values and contract documents for all Covid-19 related contracts.
The NHS is now standardising on a single digital platform (Atamis) which will make it easier for the NHS to capture more consistent and complete data for NHS procurement undertaken both centrally and by individual NHS trusts. The NAP should include an open contracting commitment for NHS England, NHS Trusts and NHS Supply Chain Coordination Ltd to publish open data (in OCDS, CSV and JSON) for tenders, contracts (particularly large framework agreements awards) from the Atamis platform and catalogue purchases and >£25k payments.