The current pandemic has highlighted the importance of agile, open and effective public procurement to ensure the quick provision of vital goods and services, whether that be for the supply of medical ventilators, PPE, or bio surveillance methods to detect and counter biological threats. However, the pandemic has also highlighted that the existing public procurement regulations are in need of urgent reform. The announcement today that the Government plans to overhaul its procurement rules, making it easier for SMEs to win public contracts, are therefore timely and could help to address existing concerns by industry about the complexity of procurement procedures and the barriers to engagement that face SMEs and hinder the promotion of innovation by public bodies.
The Government’s Transforming Public Procurement green paper heralds major changes to the current procurement regime. The reforms propose to create a single uniform rulebook; replace the existing procedures outlined in the Public Contract Regulations 2015 (for example, competitive dialogues and restricted procedures) with three new procedures (an open procedure, a new flexible procedure, and a limited tendering procedure); allow buyers to address wider social considerations when assessing who to award a contract to; empower buyers to disbar bidders on the basis of past performance; create a new unit to oversee public procurement with powers to strengthen commercial skills of buyers; and to create a single digital platform for registering contracts.
These changes are considerable, and if implemented fully, will significantly change how the UK Government buys goods and services from industry. One very welcome change for SMEs, especially in the UK’s SME-heavy security and resilience sector, will be a move towards a ‘tell us once’ registration system, which will cut bureaucratic costs for companies applying for multiple tenders. The reforms also promise to allow buyers to take account of wider government priorities, which may provide an important step forwards in implementing the Government’s Prosperity Agenda for the UK’s defence and security sectors. For too long, public procurement has focused narrowly on value for money, which has encouraged a race to the bottom with the lowest bidder often winning but at the cost of wider social, national security and prosperity considerations.
ADS looks forward to engaging with the Government on the development and implementation of these reforms, which we hope will foster innovation and encourage SMEs to bid for public contracts more widely. As ADS has noted previously, the UK faces a technology delivery challenge and rapid development cycles, commercial agility and a willingness to fail fast often remain aspirational goals for programmes, rather than the norm. The UK’s procurement regime should reflect and encourage the pace of technology, not hinder it, and ADS will engage with the green paper consultation accordingly.