Government applies design to redraft “more accessible” contract for public sector suppliers

Contract: Line-by-line review

The Government Legal Department (GLD) has embraced design rewritten its public sector contract to make it much slimmer and more accessible to non-lawyers.

The new contract was a collaborative effort by the Government Digital Service, focusing on user research, content design and interaction design, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and the legal review of both the GLD and City law firm DLA Piper.

It went live on Monday with the launch of a £12bn facilities management procurement exercise that is likely to attract bids from thousands of SMEs as it covers everything from mechanical and electrical engineering to cleaning.

Chris Stanley, a lawyer within the GLD commercial law group has spent the past year condensing some 50,000 words of the existing CCS contract terms into a new 20-page public sector contract.

“The finished document promises a more user-friendly route to government work and a quicker, more streamlined way of working,” CCS said.

“Not having to wade through dense contracts will save money and resources not only for SMEs but also within government itself.

Mr Stanley worked with Tracy Hughes, a content designer from the Government Digital Service, going through the entire draft document line by line “so that the meaning was clearer and more comprehensible for non-lawyer users”.

CCS said Ms Hughes’s focus on plain English went against Mr Stanley’s “natural legal inclination to wordiness”.

But they eventually achieved a compromise: “It was definitely the best way to ensure that the content is more accessible to everyone while remaining legally sound,” he said.

The chief difference from the previous terms was that frequently unnecessary provisions have been moved into modular optional schedules.

CCS said: “One of the major benefits is that a small organisation or company that does not have a dedicated legal team will now be better able to understand and adapt the public sector contract to its needs by merely selecting those elements it needs to apply.”

It would also benefit public sector buyers. “There are some smaller organisations that may not have extensive procurement experience. They are run by skilled people but they won’t always have the resources to deal with complex contracts.

“Without a user-friendly government framework they are likely to pay a far higher price for goods and services using less favourable terms.”

Public sector buyers which have greater legal capabilities, such as the Ministry of Justice, will still be able to adapt the contract to suit their more specialised requirements.

Mr Stanley said the new contract would also establish a benchmark for good business ethics by integrating some new corporate social responsibility obligations.

Jason Waterman, director at the CCS, added: “This is a key initiative and will set a new standard for government contracts brining our offering in line with the very best in commercial practice.”

Peter Jeffery, partner at south-east law firm Moore Blatch, said the new contract was good news. He explained: “We have previously seen clients spend hundreds of thousands of pounds with us, and many millions of pounds tendering for contracts which were ultimately not ever awarded.

“So, while not technically barred from tendering for public sector contracts, many medium-sized SMEs are effectively barred, due to resources and costs associated with the process. As a result, a virtual oligopoly exists for many services. Plainly wherever this is the case best value is not necessarily always achieved.

“This new contract is both flexible and customisable and should make it much easier for SMEs to apply. While external legal support is likely to still be necessary, this should open up the market for many of our clients.”

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