Public Procurement Reform update – October 2021
Since our last update in the summer, behind-the-scenes work to reform the public procurement regulations has continued to move at pace. This is an exciting agenda that will deliver enormous benefits.
Firstly, we now have the opportunity to leverage public procurement spend to deliver national and local Government priorities to a greater extent than has previously been possible. Government’s policy priorities include driving economic growth and recovery from COVID-19, levelling up and tackling climate change. We will do this by better enabling the award of contracts based on their full value to society not just on lowest price or from the sole perspective of the organisation letting the contract.
Secondly we will make it easier for firms to bid for government work, and get on with providing excellent value goods and services. We will introduce one of the most transparent procurement regimes in the world, joining up procurement systems for the first time so that suppliers only have to tell government once about their core credentials and ensuring government opportunities are more visible. We will reduce the overall burden and complexity of the regime, cutting drastically the 350+ regulations into a single, uniform framework covering all sectors with only a very limited number of necessary sector-specific exemptions.
Thirdly the new regime will enable public sector procurers to utilise their commercial skills to the full, to deliver the best possible outcome for the taxpayer. A new competitive flexible procedure will permit more dialogue with suppliers to ensure they gain a better understanding of requirements. The creation of tailored selection and evaluation processes to suit need will make it easier to procure innovative solutions – covering the whole process from research and development through to buying the finished product, permitting the evaluation of product demos for example. It will also be easier to exclude firms with a poor performance record. Reform of the Remedies regime will reduce the burden and risk of legal uncertainty giving procurers more confidence in their decisions.
The reforms stretch across the whole of the public sector and will need a sustained programme of implementation. Thousands of public sector procurers plus many thousands of other stakeholders – including suppliers – will need to be trained in the new regulations in order to secure the benefits of the legislative changes.
Green Paper consultation response – We have now worked through the very detailed feedback received from well over 600 respondents to the Transforming Public Procurement Green Paper. Analysis of the responses showed the proposed measures were broadly welcomed; many recognised the ambition and breadth of the package. There was support for the key reforms including the proposed new principles for public procurement and the consolidation of the existing regulations and procedures. Contracting authorities were supportive of a more flexible approach and recognised the benefits to be gained. There are several areas where our thinking has moved on as a result of feedback received. We plan to publish, in the coming weeks, a summary of responses received and details of what the Government intends to do, in light of the consultation exercise.
Our focus is now on preparing legislation for Parliament – detailed work to turn our policy intentions into a Bill. The Ministry of Defence is leading on the aspects of the reforms relevant to defence and security procurement, and we at Cabinet Office are also working closely with health colleagues on the procurement aspects of the Health and Social Care Bill, and with local government on those elements of reform which particularly impact that sector. We are also working with officials in the Devolved Administrations: Wales has now confirmed they will join the Bill, Northern Ireland are closely involved and we are working with the Scottish Government to support alignment with their regime.
Timetable for change – We know that people are keen to know when the rules will change. We can’t yet give a firm date of when this will be. The Procurement Bill will be introduced when Parliamentary time allows and it will take several months to complete its passage through Parliament. Following that, there will need to be secondary legislation (regulations) made. Although it isn’t yet possible to confirm when the new regime will come into force, we will give plenty of notice, in order to allow people time to prepare. In any event, given the timescales around the legislative process, the new regime could not come into force until 2023 at the earliest. The key thing to remember for now is that guidance and support will be available, the existing legislation continues to apply until the new reforms are implemented and will also continue to apply to procurements started under the old rules.
Learning and Development – We are also busy planning the learning and development offer that will support the introduction of the new public procurement regime. Thank you to those who provided their views via the survey we ran in the summer, which has informed our plans. The shape of the L&D offer is subject to funding decisions but we aim to deliver a comprehensive programme of blended learning that allows people to access appropriate support that suits their role. As well as formal training, we plan to support communities of practice where ideas and experiences can be shared, and procurement and commercial professionals can help one another to embed the new ways of working. These communities of practice will be particularly important for encouraging the behavioural and cultural change that will be so crucial to realising the benefits of the reform.
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