The Cabinet Office has quietly handed a key Whitehall contract to Amazon, throwing doubt over its claims it has made it easier for small businesses to win government contracts.
Amazon’s cloud business AWS is understood to have won a contract to host the foundation stage of the Crown Marketplace, a portal being developed on which government departments and councils will be able to procure goods and services.
The award of the potentially highly lucrative government contract will see Amazon’s infrastructure embedded in the portal, putting it in a better position to be chosen at later stages of the project, and is likely to raise questions over whether the US tech giant has received favourable treatment.
In 2017, AWS is thought to have won around £16m worth of contracts with the Government, and is understood to be one of its most dominant cloud providers, prompting critics to question the Government’s neutrality when picking suppliers.
The Government last April said it was introducing new measures to help smaller businesses win government contracts, with Oliver Dowden, the minister for implementation, saying: “This government is listening to the business community and is committed to levelling the playing field for smaller suppliers to win work in the public sector.”
The new government portal is being built by The Dextrous Web, a small agency of around 50 people, with that award having been detailed on the Government’s Contract Finder website.
The Cabinet Office’s procurement body, the Crown Commercial Service, and The Dextrous Web agreed that AWS would be best suited to meeting the needs of the project, and entered into a contract with the company to host the site.
However, no details of AWS’s role in the project were publicly available until Friday evening, when the Cabinet Office were asked where the information was. The contract is thought to have been entered into last September.
The project has come up against a number of hurdles, including claims over a lack of support within the Government for its roll-out and the departure of the executive director responsible for the programme in September.
An initial tender for building and hosting the portal was launched late last year, and Amazon had been thought to be the front-runner. However, that was later cancelled with the Crown Commercial Service saying it was “reviewing our scope and focus”, a decision which sparked outrage among bidders who claimed they had invested significant time and money on preparing their work for the tender.
A new revised tender, which was unveiled last summer, had been purely for building the foundation of the project, and that was the contract won by The Dextrous Web.
In development pages for the portal discovered by The Daily Telegraph, the Crown Commercial Service appeared to have said that it used “Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the default cloud provider for newly built services which require Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) hosting”.
“New services will be hosted in AWS unless there is an architectural decision overriding this decision,” the notes read. These comments are thought to relate to technical design decisions for the project specifically, and are not general policy decisions.
A spokesman for the Crown Commercial Service said: “The Crown Commercial Service technology programme involves many different services, partners and activities. As a G-Cloud provider, Amazon Web Services (AWS) was engaged to provide just one part of that programme – its hosting services.