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UK public procurement regime to be simplified and made more accessible

Out-Law News | 13 May 2021 | 10:04 am | 1 min. read

The UK’s public procurement regime is set for wide-ranging reform, intended to make the procurement process quicker and easier to access for a wide range of organisations.

The government announced in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech that it intends to consolidate over 350 regulations which make up the UK’s procurement rules into a single uniform framework. It said this would allow more freedom for the public and private sectors to work in partnership.

The bill will enshrine in law principles including value for money, public benefit, transparency, integrity, fair treatment of suppliers and non-discrimination. It will introduce three “simple, modern procedures” for procurement and establish a single platform for supplier registration, so suppliers only have to submit data once to qualify for any public sector procurement process.

Procurement law expert Totis Kotsonis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “Reform which streamlines and harmonises the differing regulations which apply to public, utilities and concession contracts, as well as defence and security contracts is vital for post-Brexit economic growth.

“Fair, simpler and more flexible rules will facilitate speedier and more efficient procurement processes. This could be a game changer for UK businesses bidding for government contracts, which have for many years grappled with existing complex laws,” Kotsonis said.

The government said the exit from the EU was a chance to shape the future public procurement landscape, “independent of the EU’s complex system of procurement laws”. It added the new system would be in line with commitments made on public procurement within free trade agreements.

The government also announced it would soon publish a National Procurement Policy Statement, which will set out strategic national priorities for public procurement. Buyers of services will have to have regard to these priorities in the future.

The new processes will enable contracting authorities to procure goods and services quickly in crisis situations, with strengthened safeguards for transparency.

The bill will introduce exclusion rules to tackle supplier fraud, and give the buyers of services tools to help them take account of a bidder’s past performances.

The system for challenging procurement decisions will also be reformed. The government said it would cap the level of damages available to bidders to deter speculative claims.

“Simplicity and flexibility alone are not a silver bullet. Robust compliance incentives underpinned by regulation that has teeth and can swiftly clamp down on the misuse of public funds will be essential to the success of the procurement regime. The extent to which the new legislation will strike the right balance on this, remains to be seen,” Kotsonis said.