Select Committee on Public Administration Memoranda


Submitted by F R Herzberg, Concessions Director, Tarmac plc

  1.  The views that I am expressing are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, Tarmac plc.

  2.  My area of expertise is primarily contracts under the Government's Private Finance Initiative rather than general public procurement.

  3.  The Bill in clause 8 provides for a right of information but in Clause 34 gives a blanket exemption for matters prejudicial to commercial interests.

  4.  In my opinion, while a balance needs to be achieved between the interests of the various parties involved, the Bill could provide considerably greater transparency without adversely affecting commercial interests.

  5.  The breadth of the exemption under clause 34 means that, unless implementation procedures operate efficiently, it is unlikely that the Government's policy as regards greater openness will be achieved in the case of contracts for the provision of public services. It is fundamental that the public should have access to information of what services have been contracted for and what have not, otherwise they will not be able to make representations as to failures in the provision of those services.

  6.  Specifically, the breadth of exemption under clause 34 will allow the parties to contacts for public services to claim that the disclosure of terms of the contract will, prima facie, prejudice commercial interests and no disclosure will take place.

  7.  I believe that once a contract has been signed (and therefore the competition stage is complete) disclosure of the terms of the contract are unlikely actually to prejudice commercial interests unless it is:

    (a)  financial information

    (b)  technical information and know-how

    (c)  special arrangements for the project in question.

  8.  Consortia led by Tarmac have encouraged greater openness in government by placing copies of the concession contract for a new Acute General Hospital at Dartford in the House of Commons Library, in the local Council Offices and at local public libraries.

  9.  Considerable clarity is required in the Codes of Practice as to what is likely to be prejudicial to commercial interests or (i) the objectives of the Bill will not be achieved and (ii) a backlog of complaints will arise.

  10.  Moreover the complaints systems to be established under the Codes of Practice should provide, inter alia, for (i) a speedy response to those complaints and (ii) adverse comment to be made against departments who have been found to have withheld information without justification.

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