Councils reminded of procurement law relating to boycotts

The government has published guidance reminding local authorities that boycotting particular countries during procurement processes is illegal.

The guidance has been prompted due to fears that boycotts of Israeli products could undermine community relations and fuel anti-semitism.

Although it doesn’t introduce any new rules, the guidance reminds local authorities of their responsibilities under existing procurement law.

It says that councils are free to make procurement decisions based on wider policy objectives relating to economic, employment, social and environmental considerations.

However, it said that EU procurement directives and the World Trade Organisation’s Government Procurement  Agreement prevent boycotts based on country.

It said: “These rules impose a legal obligation on public authorities when awarding contracts above certain thresholds to treat EU and GPA suppliers equally, and not discriminate by, amongst other things, favouring national suppliers.

“There are remedies available through the courts for breaches of these rules, such as damages, fines and ineffectiveness (contract cancellation).

“The European Commission can also bring legal proceedings against the UK Government for alleged breaches of EU law by a UK contracting authority. This can lead to formal action being required to rectify the breach, and substantial fines against the Government.”

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The guidance applies to all public sector contracting bodies.

In 2009, West Dunbartonshire Council boycotted Israeli goods, and in 2014, Leicester City Council voted to slap a ban on buying goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Otherwise, the problem is relatively small.

The rules also apply to boycotts of other controversial governments, although examples of boycotts by councils here seem to be non-existent.

Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock said: “We need to challenge and prevent these divisive town hall boycotts.

“The new guidance on procurement combined with changes we are making to how pension pots can be invested will help prevent damaging and counter-productive local foreign policies undermining our national security.”

Colin Marrs

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