1. Foie gras, Turkish baths and machine guns: the strange world of local government procurement

    Local government has a need for all kinds of services, from taxis to stationery. And to ensure that they get the best deals, they acquire them through a procurement process—one that, as suppliers of software to councils, we’ve become very familiar with ourselves.

    It’s quite simple: every category of goods or services has its own ID number. You identify the ones that are closest to what you provide—so in our case, it might be software development, software consultancy, and the provision of software packages.

    Then you sign up to receive notifications every time a council puts out a request for tenders that fall within one of those categories.

    Our newest team member, Camilla, has been spending a lot of time signing up for these notifications across all the various platforms in the UK (buy her a drink if you see her: procurement websites might just be amongst the most infuriating and clunky known to man), and as a result, she’s noticed that as well as all the categories you’d expect, there are also plenty more that you wouldn’t.

    For example, who knew that councils had such a regular need for

    15112310 Foie gras

    or indeed

    18318000 Nightwear
    98331000 Turkish bath services
    18511100 Diamonds
    14523400 Platinum
    16710000 Pedestrian-controlled agricultural tractors

    Then there’s

    35321100 Hand guns

    and as if that’s not enough…

    35321300 Machine guns

    There are plenty more categories that might make you go ‘hmm’ – take a look for yourself.

    Oh, and here’s a thought – if you’d like to ask your own local council what their expenditure is on nightwear, foie gras or machine guns, you can do so very easily at our own WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

    Image: Dynamosquito (CC)

  2. Keep yourself cool

    I mentioned the other day “a syndicated version of PledgeBank for someone’s large global warming campaign later in the year”. In the early hours of this morning, Global Cool soft launched.

    The idea is that people can use the Global Cool website as a central place to manage reducing or offsetting their carbon emissions, and recording and competing for how much they have done so. There’ll be tools like carbon counters, systems to track when you change electricity company, and so on. PledgeBank comes into this as another set of actions Global Cool people can take, both making and signing pledges which reduce their CO2 footprint.

    Global Cool Foundation UK, the new charity behind it, only got their funding recently, and so as Gavin explains have had to build the site in phenomenal time. We got login intergration with PledgeBank working in the early hours of this morning. It works, but there are some missing features, and it still needs lots of polishing. The integration is needed so later you can be credited for signing and doing a pledge on the main part of the Global Cool site.

    The “microsites” file in the PledgeBank source code is even more complicated now, with authentication hooks. Basically, the PledgeBank part of Global Cool runs on a subdomain of their domain, being pledge.global-cool.com. This is so it can read the Global Cool cookies for authentication. The pledges themselves are in the same database, so they can be shared with the rest of the site later.

    We can happily syndicate or theme PledgeBank in all sorts of ways for your site. We charge for this via our trading arm. Any profit (not really any yet!) going back into running the main PledgeBank service for free, and to run mySociety.