13 February 2014 | Malcolm Harbour
Buyers need to sharpen up their act as a result of the EU public procurement reforms. The whole point of modernising the EU procurement rules is to slash bureaucracy and its associated cost. Historically, the costs of running a procedure often outweighed the value of the procurement, and these rules were too often defeating their purpose of ensuring value for money.
This reform encourages good, innovative procurement and public bodies to spend much more on buying innovative products and services by cutting pre-contract formalities and generalising negotiations between buyers and suppliers upstream. Small enterprises are encouraged by these measures and by requirements to consider smaller lots.
The UK government played an important role in negotiations with other governments, but as chairman of the committee responsible for public procurement and lead negotiator for the European Parliament, I managed the final negotiations and influenced the outcome, notably improving access for SMEs to public procurement and securing provisions for setting up ‘employee-led mutuals’.
Buyers now need to take ownership of the new system and drive 21st-century procurement practice. The EU legal framework finally underpins this. We can’t simply continue blaming Brussels for a sluggish, outdated and costly system. The rules are no longer just about ensuring transparency and fair competition, they’re also about public and private actors using modern systems and working together to design innovative solutions and fit-for-purpose procurement.
On this there are two major achievements. First, with the introduction of mandatory e-invoicing and e-procurement, purchasers will benefit significantly from the IT systems to help work up specifications, improve the quality of bids, speed up procurement and reduce the propensity for making mistakes.
As part of this, I also introduced proposals for the use of 3D Building Information Modelling (BIM) for works contracts. To buyers and suppliers who are not already familiar with this IT tool, there is no doubt about benefits it brings in cost, and environmental and building re-use.
Second, the ‘innovation partnerships’, which I also proposed, are a real breakthrough. Buyers can now readily work in structured long-term partnerships with innovative start-ups and SMEs, by co-developing, testing and deploying new technologies in products or services, channelling their innovation potential.
The task of the next Parliament with the support of the UK government is to ensure quick implementation of the new rules, and developing the skills to exploit them.
☛ Malcolm Harbour is a Conservative MEP and chairman of the European Parliament Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee