The UK’s latest procurement bill promises much, but many of the technical details remain to be defined. The drafting of the procurement bill matches many of the trailed promises featured in the consultation, but some of those promises, notably those around transparency remain undefined.
That’s not to say that they won’t be there, rather that they’re not yet defined or committed. There is significant detail on a wide range of notices that public bodies will have to publish (and some that are voluntary) including details of when a notice should be published, its purpose, and some guidance about what it might include.
However, the bulk of the details of exactly what must be published, where it must be published, and whether it will be available to everyone has been left to secondary legislation or guidance. The bill contains no requirement to publish notices so that anyone can read them. There is, however, a clause that allows any authority to withhold publication of notices if it deems that there is an “overriding public interest in its being withheld from publication”.
It would be churlish to suggest that this represents an attempt to resile from the Government’s commitments to transparency, it is nothing of the sort and clearly, there is more to come. But this bill cuts both ways, in that, it affords any authority the right to hide information, just as soon as it affords an authority to publish it to the world.
So transparency advocates such as ourselves must remain patient, but it is a concern that the right to hide information is provided for, whilst a commitment to transparency is not seen as a fundamental principle of Government procurement.
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Image credit: Waiting for Godot, Festival D’Avignon, 1978