Government steams ahead with procurement reforms

The government has published its proposals for introducing new procurement rules – which could help simplify the tendering process for councils seeking ICT products and services – into UK law.

In April, the European Union formally adopted new directives covering all areas of procurement for all public bodies.

Member states had two years from that date to incorporate the requirements into domestic law, but the UK Government has signalled that it wants to push ahead quickly with the process.

The consultation document said: “The government has negotiated successfully in Brussels over the last two years to simplify and modernise the existing framework of EU procurement directives, to make public procurement faster, less costly and enable better value outcomes for Government, industry, and the wider public sector.

“The UK aims to implement the new directives earlier than the two years required by the EU, to take advantage of the new flexibilities as soon as possible.”

European officials have noted the UK’s desire to move quickly, and has signalled its intention to make the new EU procurement forms available for use by the autumn, the UK government said.

If there are delays to publication, the government says that it is planning to use the current forms and notices until the new forms are ready.

It said: “The majority of additional information required on the forms and notices will be added to free text boxes. Where new Forms and Notices are required existing ones will have to be adapted to include the information.”

The government’s consultation also proposed to introduce the maximum default exclusion period allowed by the directives for firms which have either broken defined laws or underperformed on previous contracts.

These periods are three and five years for discretionary and mandatory exclusion respectively.

The government is also proposing to elaborate the offences in UK national  law which attract mandatory exclusion, “as certainty is desirable where a contracting  authority is compelled to exclude an economic operator”.

Contractors should not also be obliged by law to provide information about its subcontractors and supply chain, although it will remain an option, according to the proposals.

“The proposed  policy  position  on both these choices is to leave  it to the individual contracting authorities to make the decision per procurement,  based on the individual circumstances and requirements of each case,” the document said.

The reforms will mean councils will be able to advertise their contracts via less burdensome prior-information notices (instead of contract notices). In addition, they will be able to agree with the pre-selected bidders on the deadlines in their procurement procedures.

The reforms also broaden the possibilities for negotiating changes to procedures when justified by the specific circumstances of the project.

In addition, the documentation required from bidders will be reduced, by the introduction of self-declarations through a standardised document. Only the winning bidder will now have to submit formal evidence.

The minimum deadlines to submit tenders will also be shortened.

A mandatory requirement for electronic communication in public procurement could increase accessibility to SMEs, European officials believe.

In addition, the division of contracts into lots is being encouraged through a new “apply or explain” principle.

Turnover requirements will be limited to a maximum of twice the estimated value of the contract, except in justified cases.

The consultation closes on 17 October.

Colin Marrs

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