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Cameron: Conservatives Will Pull Back the Curtain on Government Contracting

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, February 11 2010

Credit: TED/Richard Lewis

In the UK, politicians on the left and right have been scrambling to claim the mantle of transparent government as the battle heats up over who will next lead that country. Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was behind the push to bring to the web last month, for example. Yesterday, in a talk delivered via satellite to the TED conference in California, conservative leader David Cameron hammered home the idea that his vision of government is one where "transparency," "accountability," and "choice" together serve as the pole star for all that political leaders do.

In his address to TED, a conference dedicated to discussing big solutions to big problems, Cameron celebrated some of open government's more concrete examples of data in action. The Tory leader namechecked number-driven crime maps, health care pricing comparison charts, and even Transform Missouri, that state's federal stimulus spending tracker.

Cameron sought to expand that list of open government goals by pledging that a Tory government, under this watch, would make public the details of all government contracting, including " performance indicators, break clauses and penalty measures." (For those of us in the U.S., it's worth judging Cameron's pledge in the context of the UK not having as well-developed an expectation of "freedom of information" as we do in the States.) From a press release from Cameron's office sent before the event:

Today, David Cameron will announce that a Conservative government will...tak[e] the radical step to publish all government contracts worth over £25,000 for goods and services in full. This will enable the public to root out wasteful spending and poorly negotiated contracts, and open up the procurement system to more small businesses.

Radical? Yes indeed, says the Prospect's James Crabtree, who finds Cameron's proposal very significant news:

People are missing the radicalism in his open contracts announcement. Cameron last night committed to publish the details of all government contracts. Not just IT contracts, which no one noticed they pledged to do in their IT paper before Christmas. ALL contracts. Every contract any contractor signs with a government department. Cleaners. Train operators. McKinsey being paid to write most of the Dhazi review. McKinsey running large chunks of Northern Rock. All of it.

For his part, Gordon Brown had his chance before a TED audience back in 2009, and he too celebrated the potential of technology -- only he focused on the idea that modern communications is creating a new sort of powerful global consciousness.