The coalition government, so far, would appear to have as much understanding as to how local government works as their predecessors. A little investigation at the coal face of information management, i.e. the ICT departments, wouldn’t have gone amiss before the latest scheme to cause havoc was proposed.
Whilst I am a great fan of transparency and open data I am slightly nervous by the new demands from Whitehall in that regard:
“Local government spending transparency
•New items of local government spending over £500 to be published on a council-by-council basis from January 2011.
•New local government contracts and tender documents for expenditure over £500 to be published in full from January 2011.”
Publishing every new expenditure and contract over £500 virtually means every pair of laptops, every server and many other relatively day-day-purchases have to appear on the web site. As well as the additional bureaucracy of following this through, it is likely to mean further ‘phone calls from the hoards of sales people who disturb my waking hours as to why they didn’t get the sale, or whether they can be added to the list of suppliers!
In Yorkshire and the Humber there is an online tendering system that works extremely well, however standing orders normally permit my local authority to go for three prices under £50, 000 and pick the most suitable, with member authorisation. Tendering is only required over that amount. I know a lot of other councils are far more flexible, but in my case I’ll probably now spend most of my time doing procurement to satisfy this requirement.
As to how we’ll extract the data to publish, I’ve no idea. If all 380 councils in the country were on the same finance or procurement application, a single tweak could spit it all out. But we’re not! So a range of suppliers will screw every council for the adaptation, which in our case is of an obsolete system we are awaiting the opportunity to upgrade.
As usual, Whitehall hasn’t thought this through and tarred everyone with the same brush because a few central departments haven’t been doing their procurement properly.