The Government Digital Service (GDS) is to use feedback it has had on procurement processes to create new ‘model contracts' that it hopes will put to bed many existing issues and modernise the contract lifecycle.
GDS had already published a blog post in 2016 setting out its vision for government contracts in the 21st century. It said that it wanted to simplify contracts and host them online, and help the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) to provide public-sector buyers with the best possible commercial deals for goods and services.
Now, it is able to share the findings from the discovery phase of its research.
GDS contacted 165 people who had signed up as ‘good contract champions', a number that has now risen to 190. However, only 53 people were available to speak to GDS within its timeframe. This included buyers, suppliers and legal experts from central and local government, large and small companies, as well as ‘independent digital specialists' from all over the UK.
It found that all users wanted several things included in a contract: liability, indemnity and insurance, intellectual property, service-level agreements, contact points and escalation and exit responsibilities.
When looking at the existing contract process, both buyers and suppliers said that they wanted consistency through the contract lifecycle. Users said that the structure of the contract should be of a high standard and the language needed to be simple, while overall the content has to be clear and relevant to the reader.
A key issue raised was on document management. As documents are often emailed back and forth, there is a risk of poor version control and peer review issues.
Buyers and suppliers said they needed to be able to find the latest version of a contract, while suppliers want to have confidence that the government knows what it has bought and can understand and manage its contracts.
Both buyers and suppliers said that the procurement and contracting processes were too time consuming.
From the supplier perspective this was predominantly about preparing their bid and asking clarification questions. But they also said that time was being spent supporting the buyer through procurement, suggesting that they weren't always confident of the buyer's knowledge.
Meanwhile, buyers also wanted to feel as though the amount of time spent completing contracts was proportional to the size of the procurement.
"While there are merits to the breadth of frameworks, it is important that detail is thoughtfully included and the content is relevant so there are no unnecessary barriers to use," GDS said.
"In addition, it should be a straightforward task to find and use the right route to market," it added.
Finally, GDS said it was important that users are aware that using the same terms and conditions across a broad category could prove to be problematic. It said that this could lead to "high-level, generic definitions such as 'cloud'".
Other points raised by users included the fact that a uniform approach to risk and service level agreements may not be appropriate for the size or nature of the procurement - and may not match the supply market.
Some suppliers also felt that the way certain clauses were written made it more difficult to comply with them.
The next step for GDS is to test out ideas for ‘model contracts' for the most commonly used goods and services.
"Some areas were commonly highlighted in the issues that came up through the contract lifecycle. The alpha scope will define which, if any, are taken forward," said GDS.
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