Out-Law Guide 5 min. read
13 Mar 2015, 10:11 am
This is a different approach to that adopted by the UK when it transposed the last EU Public Sector Procurement Directive in 2006. The regulations make it clear that expressions used will, for the most part, have the same meaning as they have in the new Directive.
The regulations came into force on 26 February 2015 and as with the 2006 Public Contracts Regulations which they replace, the 2015 regulations will take some time to bed in. Interpretation is likely to evolve over time, not least in light of the various guidance notes with the Cabinet Office has published and will publish and no doubt, in due course, case law from the courts. The majority of the provisions will apply from 26 February 2015 with some exceptions, including the requirement to ensure that tender processes are run on a fully electronic basis which will apply to all contracting authorities only from 18 October 2018.
Scotland has recently begun its own consultation process on how to implement the new EU directive, which it is expected to do later in 2015.
This guide will provide a brief overview of the circumstances in which the new regulations apply, as well as some exceptions. For more information on what has changed, please see our separate Out-Law guide.
The scope of the 2015 regulations will be broadly familiar to contracting authorities working with the 2006 regulations. They will continue to apply where a contracting authority seeks offers in respect of a public works, services or supply contract with a value in excess of the applicable financial threshold. Thresholds are largely unchanged as they must remain aligned with the thresholds set out in the World Trade Organisation's Government Procurement Agreement.
The 2015 regulations do away with the Part A/Part B services distinction and introduce a new 'light touch' regime. This applies to the procurement of health, social and other services that fall within the CPV codes listed in Schedule 3 where the contract value is above a higher financial threshold of €750,000. All other services that fall outside of the light touch regime will be subject to the 2015 regulations in full. Limited obligations apply to the award of these contracts, including:
In an update to the draft 2015 regulations on which the Cabinet Office consulted in autumn 2014, the new regulations specify limited circumstances in which an authority may depart from the procedure it has previously outlined to bidders. However, there is an obligation on authorities to inform bidders of this variance. The Cabinet Office indicated in its consultation response document that it sees this update as enabling flexibility in exceptional circumstances, e.g. the extension of time limits where new information has come to light following publication of the contract notice. Arguably, this only reflects what an authority is permitted to do in practice already, and is justified under the general EU Treaty Principles.
In addition to a number of the general exclusions that continue to apply, a number of additional exclusions have been introduced in the 2015 regulations:
The new regulations confirm, and expand on, two exemptions for cooperation between entities within the public sector, confirming the position previously established under EU case law. The regulations will not apply to:
The UK pushed for and succeeded in securing a right to hold competitions limited to mutual-type organisations in certain circumstances. This exemption is only available for the award of certain types of service contracts, including administrative services in relation to education, healthcare and housing, health and social work services, and library and other cultural services. It can only relate to the award of contracts for not more than three years, and the mutual-type organisations must meet certain criteria.
For public contracts, an authority's choice of award procedure is essentially the same under the 2015 regulations: open procedure; restricted procedure; competitive dialogue; and competitive procedure with negotiation (equivalent to the previous negotiated procedure with prior advertisement). There are, however, a number of important changes even to these familiar procedures, including:
The biggest change of all to the procedures is the introduction of the innovation partnerships procedure. This is intended as a new procedure that sits alongside the other procedures set out above. Innovation partnerships are designed to enable both the development and subsequent purchase from the same supplier(s) of an "innovative" work, service or product. The idea seems to be that high level product proposals are submitted during the competitive tender process and the solutions developed post-appointment; in contrast to, for example, the competitive dialogue procedure where dialogue is required to continue until the authority identifies the solution that best meets its needs. There is also scope to appoint more than one innovation partner, but for partners' contracts to be terminated as the development progresses post-appointment.
For many, this procedure raises more questions than it answers and there are a number of restrictions that apply, including to the form the innovation partnership contract must take, that might put some authorities off. That said, as a concept the innovation partnership seems potentially to represent a great opportunity for suppliers and a new avenue for authorities that are interested in working with the private sector to commercialise new products and services to explore. However, authorities should be alert to the potential state aid and competition issues that may arise through the use of the innovation partnership procedure; for example due to joint public/private sector working and investment.