Open Data For Transparency – Contract Compliance?

Doing a tab sweep just now, I came across a post describing a Policy note issued on contracts and compliance with transparency principles by the Crown Commercial Service [Procurement Policy Note – Increasing the Transparency of Contract Information to the Public – Action Note 13/15 31 July 2015 ] that requires “all central government departments including their Executive Agencies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs)” (and recommends that other public bodies follow suit) to publish a “procurement policy note” (PPN) “in advance of a contract award, [describing] the types of information to be disclosed to the public, and then to publish that information in an accessible form” for contracts advertised after September 1st, 2015.

The publishers should “explore [make available, and update as required] a range of types of information for disclosure which might typically include:-

i. contract price and any incentivisation mechanisms
ii. performance metrics and management of them
iii. plans for management of underperformance and its financial impact
iv. governance arrangements including through supply chains where significant contract value rests with subcontractors
v. resource plans
vi. service improvement plans”
.

The information so released may perhaps provide a hook around which public spending (transparency) data could be used to cross-check contract delivery. For example, “[w]here financial incentives are being used to drive performance delivery, these may also be disclosed and published once milestones are reached to trigger payments. Therefore, the principles are designed to enable the public to see a current picture of contractual performance and delivery that reflects a recent point in the contract’s life.” Spotting particular payments in transparency spending data as milestone payments could perhaps be used to cross-check back that those milestones were met in an appropriate fashion. Or where dates are associated in a contract with particular payments, this could be used to flag-up when payments might be due to appear in spending data releases, and raise a red flag if they are not?

Finally, the note further describes how:

[i]n-scope organisations should also ensure that the data published is in line with Open Data Principles. This means ensuring the data is accessible (ideally via the internet) at no more than the cost of reproduction, without limitations based on user identity or intent, in a digital, machine-readable format for interoperation with other data and free of restriction on use or redistribution in its licensing conditions

In practical terms, of course, how useful (if at all) any of this might be will in part determined by exactly what information is released, how, and in what form.

It also strikes me that flagging up what is required of a contract when it goes out to tender may still differ from what the final contract actually states (and how is that information made public?) And when contracts are awarded, where’s the data (as data) that clearly states who it was awarded to, in a trackable form, etc etc. (Using company numbers in contract award statements, as well as spending data, and providing contract numbers in spending data, would both help to make that sort of public tracking easier…)