Public Services

What did we learn from yesterday's Open Procurement for a Digital Government 'unconference'?

Matteo Natalucci Published 12 September 2017

Government wants to enhance buyer-supplier cooperation to deliver key services and extend the Digital Marketplace overseas - but there was no new detail about the planned Crown Marketplace procurement


Yesterday, the Government Digital Service (GDS) ran a day-long 'unconference' in partnership with Crown Commercial Service (CCS), and the Digital Catapult that set out to provide insight into CCS' plans to deliver a public sector e-Marketplace to simplify procurement for both buyers and suppliers.

Yet, the real focus of the event, it seemed, was also to provide an opportunity to contribute to the digital purchasing "play-book" that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is putting together with Australia, New Zealand and Chile and to support the concept of expanding the Digital Marketplace to other countries through the OECD network.

Overall, the event brought together a broad cross-section of the Civil Service together with its digital and technology suppliers to map out what Whitehall and wider public sector procurement should look like.

The short introductory presentations were from minister for government resilience and efficiency Caroline Nokes and Civil Service chief executive John Manzoni.

Manzoni highlighted the need to enhance buyer-supplier cooperation to deliver key services for the government as well as detailing the efforts already in train to make sure the Digital Marketplace model is accessible to overseas stakeholders.

"We need an interface that is modern, accessible, and dynamic. The Digital Marketplace has been going for a few years, and the Crown Marketplace will be another big, transformative change," Manzoni said.

Nokes reaffirmed her commitment to working with SMEs, underlining the importance of both transparency and open dialogue while dealing with companies' commercial engagements with the government.

"If my mission is [about] one thing, it is to make sure we support SMEs. We will make the contracting process... more flexible, digital, and transparent." Nokes said.

Nokes also floated the government's intention of extending the Digital Marketplace overseas.

"Having demonstrated the success of our approach in the UK, we're working internationally to extend the opportunities presented by the Digital Marketplace," Nokes said.

"This is creating opportunities for UK businesses who have demonstrated their ability to supply to the domestic government market, and can now share their expertise and extend their skills by working the export market,"Nokes added.

Following the keynotes, there were a number of audience-selected sessions on issues with Open Procurement such as agile procurement, blockchain and the culture of procurement.

Being an "unconference", the workshop topics were set by the delegates (who were split 50/50 between officials and vendors) and there were no direct conversations about future development and procurement plans for the Crown Marketplace, as might have been expected.

While quite exhaustive in praising the Crown Marketplace development per se, the speakers did not clarify what commercial strategy the government plans to take to in delivering the Crown Marketplace. Updates are expected to be announced soon with an Outline Business Case, though given the reluctance to discuss the Crown Marketplace in any detail yesterday, you wonder whether CCS is having any second thoughts over its plan to choose between either an Official Journal for the European Union ("OJEU") procedure or through a Concession Procedure under Concession Contracts Regulations 2016.

The event concluded with a presentation of the Department for International Trade's initiative 'GREAT Britain campaign', which aims to support British companies exporting for the first time who want to expand into new markets.


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