WORDS by Joseph Gross and Jamie Gardner
In May 2022, The Queen's Speech announced that UK public procurement policy would be reformed following the UK's exit from the European Union. The resulting Procurement Bill / Procurement Act 2023 (“the Bill”) will give effect to policies that were set out in the Government’s Green Paper “Transforming Public Procurement”, and the Government’s response to the consultation, published in December 2021.
When enacted, the Bill will revoke and replace the current set of procurement regulations. This includes the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (PCR), the Concession Contracts Regulations 2016 (CCR), the Utilities Contracts Regulations 2016 (UCR), and Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011 (DSPCR).
The Bill extends across the UK but expressly excludes from its scope "devolved Scottish authorities", which will remain primarily subject to the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015, and the equivalent Utilities and Concessions Regulations. Other excluded authorities will also include the Advanced Research and Invention Agency and the Intelligence Services. The implications for Healthcare and the NHS in relation to the relatively recent Health and Care Act have not yet been finalised.
Why the change to public sector procurement?
The Bill’s stated aims are to build on greater flexibility outside the EU to make procurement quicker, simpler, more innovative, sustainable, and more transparent. There is also an increased focus on contract management to maintain value and performance over time.
It is clear the Bill seeks to address criticism of the previous regulations, though the underlying principles of public procurement remain broadly unchanged. The expectation remains that practitioners will demonstrate the highest levels of integrity, whilst running procurements for the public benefit, with transparent outcomes that demonstrate value for money. Much of the proposed procurement regime and best practice will be familiar, including the concept of the “contracting authority”, financial thresholds, and types of contracts that must be advertised and competitively tendered.
The impact of the Bill will be widespread, with the detail and changes affecting all stakeholders: from commercial officers to policy makers, central government to local authorities, large prime suppliers to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Due to the size and diversity of this user base, and the respective specific needs of each of these groups, targeted and bespoke training will be required to bring all parties up to speed on the new legislation and what it means for them.
What will this mean for you?
From a practitioner’s perspective, we see five key changes. We expect the details of the Bill will be further refined in the coming months, but the direction of travel is clear:
- Fewer, more flexible procedures
- A single regulatory framework
- A greater focus on contract management
- Increasing transparency obligations
- New debarment rules
As of February 2023, the Bill has completed its readings in the House of Lords and has also completed two out of three planned readings in the House of Commons. There is no firm date for when the Bill will become legislation, but we anticipate this will be a phased programme of work with secondary legislation to follow, ready to be used by practitioners in early 2024.
Efficio is closely monitoring the Bill’s progress and translating the key legislative changes into operational best practice with our clients in Utilities, Central Government, and Defence, to prepare commercial functions for the key process and training changes required to maximise value in this new operating environment.
Stay tuned for further details as we explore the Bill in the coming weeks …