10 August 2000 | Cathy Hayward
The European Commission has referred the UK to the European Court of Justice over the alleged infringement of its public procurement rules, writes Cathy Hayward.
The EC disagrees with the UK's interpretation of the rules, which require public-sector contracts to be awarded under open and competitive conditions, in three cases. It started infringement procedures last August.
The first case concerns a Home Office decision not to consider tenders for a radio communications contract that failed to reach a European technical standard. The second concerns the minimum number of firms that must be selected for a tender, and the third involves conditions for awarding tenders under framework agreements.
The action, which coincides with the release of long-awaited proposed amendments to the rules, has provoked outrage among government officials.
"I am disappointed that at the same time as announcing these reforms, the EC will be proceeding against the UK on some of the same issues," said John Colling, head of procurement policy at the Office of Government Commerce.
Rather than take the UK to court, the EC should wait to see if the proposals are accepted, he said. The UK's actions could then be perceived differently.
An EC insider said that the commission had been in discussion with the government about the matter for several months, but was obliged to look at it under existing legislation.
The debate about EU reforms is likely to last at least 18 months, according to Bill Bullivant, a public finance initiative specialist at law firm DLA.