The LGA’s criticism of procurement rules might be too late

16 August 2012
The LGA’s strongly-worded criticism of EU procurement rules this week was unexpected in both its tone and timing. The language used – describing the regulations as “torturous” and “ridiculous”, and threshold values as “ludicrously low” – is a departure from the more diplomatic terms that groups lobbying for reform usually use when trying to bring about a change in their favour. The timing too is a little odd, given the European Commission has already published its plan for reform. If the LGA felt this strongly, it would have been more sensible to express it before. The opportunity for reform is now far more limited. With no major opposition (as the reforms are not particularly contentious, even if some don’t believe they go far enough) member states will only be arguing over minor amendments and MEPs are likely to rubber-stamp changes to the directive. The LGA rejected the offer to join the ‘procurement pledge’ set up by central government disagreeing with its focus and content, deciding instead to come up with a rival code. Its exhortation that the government should “take the fight to Brussels” suggests to me there is some frustration over perceived central government inaction to give buyers more freedom to fulfil policy objectives. (It is ironic that in the government’s response to the EC consultation, raising threshold values was a key target but this was rejected by the commission.) While accepting everyone will have their own views on how far reform should go and what it should look like, a squabble between central and local government over what to do will only weaken the UK’s negotiating position with the other member states. Speaking at the CIPS Conference last October, the now ex-government CPO John Collington promised he had the courage to take the EC on if that would achieve policy goals. It will be interesting to hear what new CPO Bill Crothers has to say on this topic at this year’s event on 4 October.
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