Tugendhat sheds light on world of government contracts

Gus Tugendhat

Gus Tugendhat - Credit: Archant

British business may be on its knees with companies crying out for financial support, but for Gus Tugendhat the boom in government contracts that has accompanied Covid and Brexit has been a source of work.

He now runs his firm Tussell from his Camden Town home and today its work is more in the news than ever.

Sitting in the bracing outdoor space afforded by Camden Square, socially distanced on a park bench, he tells me about his company, which collates open data on government contracts and spending, and turns it into a single source of reliable information.

Large and small companies alike want to enter the market for government contracts, and insight from Tussell helps them get on the front foot.

Chris Grayling wearing a hard hat

Chris Grayling. - Credit: PA/Ben Birchall

The work is very topical and can be controversial. It was Tussell who brought to public attention that Chris Grayling's Department of Transport had awarded Seaborne Freight a £13.8m contract to increase freight capacity - via a fleet of ferries - in the event of a no-deal Brexit, when the start-up company did not have a ship to its name. (the contract was subsequently cancelled and the company went into voluntary liquidation in September with debts of £2m.)

Seaborne logo

Tugendhat's Tussell were the ones who drew attention to a £13.8 million contract between the Department For Transport and Seaborne, a ferry company with no ferries - Credit: Archant

Tugendhat hails from a political family. His father is Christopher, Lord Tugendhat, the former EU commissioner, and his cousin Tom is a Conservative MP who chairs the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.

He started his career in the City where he discovered the necessity of data to decision-making and went on to join Thomson Reuters, the news and information organisation, where data was again the lifeblood.

Most Read

Then he founded his own business in February 2015. “I got itchy feet in the corporate world and wanted to start my own company. This was an absolutely massive market hiding in plain sight. There are countless pockets of raw data, but nobody was combining them into a finished product." 

The memorable business name was an amalgam of Tugendhat and Russell, a friend who was the original business inspiration. Venture investment came from a group of entrepreneurs including Lord Young of Graffham, a former Conservative minister, who is now an active investor in early-stage tech ventures that solve social problems.

Helping the public and private sectors to work together remains highly relevant. "Government should focus on making public contracts as open and accessible as possible. That will attract more bidders, which increases competition and delivers more value for taxpayers," says Tugendhat.

But he paints a patchy picture of transparency, with some contracts getting disclosed in days and others taking months. Much of the inconsistency is down to the use of ‘frameworks’ or rosters of approved government contractors which have become very prevalent in recent years.

Companies are ‘called off’ from the framework to gain a contract but there is less disclosure of these call-offs than there is of standard competitive procurements. It results in poor transparency for many government contracts.

In general he is sympathetic to the Government’s position. "Managing their data is a challenge for most companies, let alone governments. Where we spot shortcomings in reporting, we bring them to the government’s attention."

In the meantime,  on the back of the government’s expanding financial intervention in the economy, Tussell is growing. Today it employs 12 and turns over nearly £1m with the plan to double that in 2021 due to strong demand from companies wanting to tap into the public sector.

"Building a viable tech company is risky and takes longer than people think."

As the cold air of Camden Square bites, we sign off our discussion, Tugendhat brings the discussion back to Covid.

"The vast sums of public money spent on Covid recovery has made open data even more topical. Doing whatever it takes to deal with the pandemic is the top priority, but that shouldn’t exempt the government from scrutiny.

"We’re back in an era of 'big government'. It’s more important than ever for the public sector and companies to work together to improve public services."

The desperate circumstances of the virus aside, this entrepreneur would seem to have found a recipe for growth that few would predict. Tugendhat’s company will assuredly outlast the pandemic and thrive.