Revisions to public procurement regulations are likely to mean more mistakes by buyers as they get to grips with the new rules, according to a lawyer.
But, public purchasers should be wary of over-complying with the legislation as it creates greater expense and doesn’t lead to best value. That’s the view of David Hansom, partner and head of procurement law at Veale Wasbrough Vizards, speaking at the CIPS Annual Conference last week.
Hansom told a session on the revised rules, introduced in England and Wales in February: “All these changes to the 2015 regulations mean that we, as buyers, are going to make more mistakes, because it is easy to fall into the pitfalls under the regulations if we are finding our way. Those process breaches are really easy to spot, and a straightforward [legal] challenge for the bidder with nothing to lose to bring.”
But, he cautioned: “With change often comes fear. A lot of my clients are panicking having seen the new regulations, trying to interpret [the guidance] and trying to make sure procurement is compliant and defensible, but also innovative at the same time. And if we are worried about risk I think the tendency is to go back into our shells and not innovate around procurement.”
He also warned against “gold-plating” requirements. “We should avoid over-engineering, asking for too much, asking for more than the market can give us.
“We should keep procurements as simple as possible. Simpler procurements are easier to run, quicker to run, and there is less chance of being challenged because there is less chance of making a mistake when scoring the bid,” he said.
If you receive a challenge from a supplier – they have risen by 300 per cent over the past decade – Hansom advised don’t ignore it, don’t delete it, and don’t try to engage with the supplier informally, as it could be used as evidence against you.
He added: “If you are sure you are on good ground in the authority, be robust, stick to your guns, tell the bidder to get stuffed and see if they want to spend the money on bringing the claim.”
He also cautioned against going overboard when applying social value provisions.
“[The Social Value Act] is not a duty to shoehorn all sorts of wonderful social benefit provisions into every single contract that is let. It is a duty to consider whether those provisions are relevant,” he said.
“I am seeing a lot of all sorts of great things going into contracts and all it is doing is pushing up the cost of the tender, because the private sector will give us anything but there is a cost attached to it. So it is about being proportionate in terms of what you ask for to ensure we don’t get bids we can’t afford.”