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Maude 'shocked' by wasteful Whitehall contracts

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has revealed his shock at the waste he claims to have found when renegotiating UK Government contracts.

Maude told delegates at the Government's Open Data conference on 19th November that in the past senior ministers "have not always taken seriously the obligation to look at what is in the contracts they are signing and understand it properly".

He claimed that the coalition's "transparency agenda", which has seen the publication of all spending over £25,000 by Government departments since the election, was a necessary step in bringing a new culture of responsibility in Whitehall, with ministers and civil servants aware their decisions were being publicly scrutinised.

"The whole culture around public spending will need to change. There's another way transparency can save money. At the moment Government contracts, goods and services, which are worth, as you've seen, billions of pounds a year, are negotiated behind closed doors, closed off from strong competition," Maude explained.

"There are competitive processes, but actually the way we do procurement is often excluding smaller suppliers from the process. Very costly, very over-engineered and it isn't the open competition that we want to see that really does drive value and drives innovation."

Maude said that a Government commitment to putting all its contracts with suppliers online next year would drive competition, with new contractors able to see what deals were currently being done.

That culture of transparency didn't extend to revealing specific details of laptops and printers that were pilloried in Sir Philip Green's recent review of government procurement, with Whitehall bosses declining a Freedom of Information request from UK IT mag PC Pro - interestingly enough, because they claimed that revealing details of their existing contracts would harm future negotiations...

Maude, one of only five non-millionaires in a 23-strong cabinet with a combined wealth of £50 million, told attendees that the coalition wanted to "move power and control decisively from elites in Westminster to individuals, neighbourhoods and communities."

If there's one thing to be learnt from the Government's new transparency over spending, it's that talk, as they say, is cheap.