Government reboots plans to overhaul public sector procurement

Government reboots plans to overhaul public sector procurement

The UK Government has relaunched its plans to reform public sector procurement, with the first reading of its new Procurement Bill taking place in the House of Lords recently.  


The Bill aims to regulate and change the way that procurement frameworks operate. It is expected to set out post-Brexit procurement rules covering a huge £300 billion in annual public spending, streamlining current systems into what it describes as “a single regime for [buying] everything from paperclips to tanks”. 


What’s in the Procurement Bill?  


There are a raft of changes and provisions outlined within the Bill, but here are a few of the key points: 

  • The creation of a single digital platform for suppliers, where details and bids can be registered. 
  • Setting out rules for emergency buying – a particularly crucial provision in the wake of Covid-19 and the panic to find PPE during the early days of the pandemic. 
  • A maximum duration of four years for public procurement frameworks (8 years for utilities and defence). 
  • Proposals to debar contractors from winning work if there is evidence of involvement in modern slavery, among other grounds for exclusion.  
  • ‘Safe harbour’ provisions allowing for contract variations for long-term or complex contracts. 
  • Strict payment rules for contractors, limiting payment terms to a maximum of 30 days for all valid and undisputed invoices.  


In a policy paper offering a guide to the provisions within the Bill, the Government sets out its aims: 


“The Bill will reform the UK’s public procurement regime, making it quicker, simpler, more transparent and better able to meet the UK’s needs while remaining compliant with our international obligations. It will introduce a new regime that is based on value for money, competition and objective criteria in decision-making. 


 “It will create a simpler and more flexible, commercial system that better meets our country’s needs. And it will more effectively open up public procurement to new entrants such as small businesses and social enterprises so that they can compete for and win more public contracts.  


“We want to deliver world-leading standards of transparency in public procurement and this Bill paves the way for that.” 


The impact on construction 


The planned overhaul to public sector procurement is expected to have the biggest direct impact on construction.  


One of the proposals within the Bill is the introduction of open frameworks. This could provide new opportunities for suppliers within construction, as unlike in the current closed framework system, it allows new suppliers to join up to 4-8 years after the framework has been set up.  

This means more chances to approach the market on a more regular basis. It could also prevent the problem of frameworks becoming redundant when construction companies become insolvent or merge.  

The Bill also includes a requirement for public authorities to publish pipelines of work, which can make it easier for construction suppliers to identify and plan for future work. It is also hoped that with one central digital system (rather than around 70 different portals), it will be much easier to bid, allocate resources and identify opportunities.  


Lastly, the Bill reduces the number of procurement procedures from seven to three, which could hopefully streamline processes for all parties. 


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