Guidance for (Acting) Returning Officers administering a UK Parliamentary election in Great Britain

Developing contracts for outsourced work

The key to effective contract management is continuous and open lines of communication between you and your nominated contract manager, underpinned by clear and robust provisions in the contract as to the quality and timescales expected and required. 

The contract should outline basic details regarding the products and services being delivered, such as specifications, quantities, timeframes and cost.  

The contract must allow you to terminate the contract in the case of:

  • a negligent act or omission
  • an act resulting in you being unable to perform your statutory duties 
  • insolvency or dissolution of the company affecting the contract

The supplier should also have adequate insurance in place to cover risks in relation to public liability and professional negligence. 

It should also support the quality assurance process by containing specific details of the following subject areas:  

Business continuity plans (BCPs)

It is key that your contract arrangements should outline how your supplier will continue operating during an unplanned disruption in service. The detail may be held outside of your formal contract, but you should ensure that you get assurance that such BCPs exist, and ideally you should be able to view these for your own reference.

Service level agreements (SLAs) 

Your contract should define exactly what services a supplier will provide and the required level or standard for those services. For example, this may include details of how quickly emails will be replied to, cover your rights and those of Electoral Commission representatives and accredited observers to access supplier premises for the purposes of observation, or to enable you to carry out quality assurance checks, agree the amount of slippage for any deadlines that is permitted by both sides under the contract, and how any failures to meet SLAs will be dealt with, both in terms of delivery and any related compensation. Such SLAs will help define what you can expect as a customer and how you and your supplier will work together. 

You should establish a procedure to enable you to carry out proof-checking on print-ready proofs and test documents within the agreed timescales. You should also agree a process to rectify any errors.

Any variations from the agreed specification could result in a breach of legislation and any such breach is the personal responsibility of the RO, so any variations should be formally documented and signed off by you or by someone authorised to act on your behalf. The contract should be capable of being adapted to take account of unscheduled activities and last minute changes. You should ensure that contractors are aware of how registration deadlines may impact on timescales. For example, EROs have until the determination deadline (i.e. 6 working days before the poll) to receive the required evidence from a prospective elector under the exceptions process and make their determination.1 If the elector also applied to vote by post, this will impact on the number of postal votes to be included in the last issue. If there is slippage, for example because of the time required to process bulk last minute postal vote applications, you should advise the contractors as soon as possible.

Data protection arrangements

Ensure that you cover the specifics of the data to be processed, including the types of data, the duration of the processing and the rights and obligations of both parties. This should also include instructions for deleting data after the processing has been completed. It is a legal requirement under current data protection legislation to formalise the working relationship with suppliers contracted to process data you hold, in a written contract. For further information see our guidance on data protection considerations when using contractors and suppliers.

You should also consider confidentiality clauses. While ROs are not subject to freedom of information requests, in the interests of transparency, consideration should be given to agreeing to some disclosure in the event of an FOI request. However, you and the supplier must not divulge any confidential information relating the terms of the contract.

You must provide suppliers with a copy of the requirements of secrecy:

Use of any sub-contractors

Your supplier should identify where they will be subcontracting any element of the delivery of their services. For election suppliers this could be in relation to production, fulfilment or delivery of materials. Whilst the use of sub-contractors is commonplace to many industries, and should not in itself be a cause of concern, it is important that you are aware of whether your suppliers utilise the services of sub-contractors and the quality assurance processes they have in place to ensure that any work delivered by third parties maintains the standards as set out in your contract with them, including data protection and secrecy requirements.

Invoicing arrangements 

You should ensure that all supporting information in relation to the costs charged and will be sent by the supplier in accordance with the tender/quote. You must settle the invoice within the agreed time.

Last updated: 19 December 2023