As the transition period for leaving the EU approaches its end, the Transforming Public Procurement Green Paper proposes the most significant changes ever to the buying and supplying processes within the public sector.
Often the word ‘transforming’ is inappropriately used, but not so in this thoughtful and well-structured Green Paper. It sets out an ambitious vision and plan for how the UK’s public sector will operate from January 2021 under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) and following a consultation ending in March 2021, when the proposals are then planned to become enshrined in UK law.
In reading the document, it is clear to see that significant consideration and consultation has already happened with input from the Procurement Transformation Advisory Panel (PTAP), co-ordinated by the excellent Commercial Policy Unit and with clear political leadership and ownership expressed in the foreword by Lord Agnew, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office.
From my perspective, as a proud supplier to UK Government, there are a number of changes proposed within the Green Paper we warmly welcome in terms of encouraging integrity and transparency, simplifying processes and responsible governance.
Transparency and integrity
The report explicitly links the annual £290bn of public money spent on goods and services directly with economic growth and encourages investment to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The clarity on the use of social economic and environmental criteria in selecting suppliers and awarding contracts and linking these to the new strategic national priorities for public procurement is also incredibly positive, specifically regarding creating new businesses, improving supplier diversity and tackling climate change.
The intention to implement and operate a central list of suppliers who have proven records of fraud, bribery and corruption is also long overdue, as is the proactive reference and consideration of suppliers past and recent performances when considering new contract awards. We strongly welcome this element of the Green Paper.
The ambitious intent to simplify the current complex framework of over 300 regulations into one uniform set of rules is also commendable and we look forward to seeing this materialise. The proposal to move from the existing seven procurement procedures to three is also very positive, particularly through the creation of the new ‘Competitive Flexible Procedure’, which is intended to replace five of the existing procedures, namely: restricted, competitive dialogue, competitive procedure with negotiation, innovation partnerships and design contests.
Whilst we also welcome the proposals related to ‘ensuring open and transparent contracting’ embedded throughout the commercial lifecycle and ‘using the best commercial purchasing tools’ including legislating for a new Dynamic Procurement System (DPS) +, these are highly ambitious and will take some considerable planning and effort to effectively deploy, given that less ambitious goals of this nature have been set and attempted with limited success over the past decade. Legislating for a single digital platform may well be part of the answer to this point, supported we trust, by the right level of resources with the appropriate future proofed digital skills within Government Commercial.
The proposal to introduce a procurement tribunal to replace the current courts process is also a positive move, as is building into legislation prompt payment, especially for SMEs. The reference within the Green Paper to the continued use of the excellent ‘Outsourcing Playbook’ and placing this on a statuary footing is promising.
We also welcome the proposal to establish a new unit, comprising of an independent panel of experts, to oversee public procurement, with powers to review and, if necessary, intervene to improve the commercial capability of Contracting Authorities. This could be major step forward from the existing capability review and departmental blueprint process.
This is a historical moment for the commercial and procurement function within government and for UK suppliers of all sizes. This Green Paper should be essential reading for any procurement professional operating within central or local government functions, to be as informed as you will need to be, as well as for any supplier currently supplying or aspiring to supply to the Government.
Chairman – Proxima, Public Sector Procurement Practice