There’s no denying the Public Contract Regulations 2015, which came into force in February in England and Wales, have once again changed the playing field for contracting authorities in the public sector, but what do they mean in practice?
Much has been said about the opportunity provided to streamline existing processes and more easily match work with those bidders who have proven to be the best fit for a given project, but this could hardly be capitalised on immediately.
The three core aims of the Public Contract Regulations 2015 are; update and simplify existing procurement rules, encourage SME participation in public procurement and increase cross regional contracting within the public sector where appropriate.
But implementing the practical and cultural changes necessary to meet these aims can be more difficult than legislative terms suggest. This is especially the case with the tight budgets still in place across the construction industry regardless of reported growth.
For those who are navigating these new ways of working with caution, there are some key considerations for success:
• A contracting authority’s ability to reduce the process’ time frame to a minimum of 15 days means tenders within both the open and restricted procedures could be completed more efficiently, but buyers should tread carefully as this runs the risk of excluding quality bidders who may not be able to compete under such time restrictions – regardless of suitability.
• As all communication and tender submissions must be made electronically by October 2018 (or April 2017 for central purchasing bodies) buyers must prepare now for this transition to prevent headaches nearer the time and make the digital switchover easy. It will be a challenge for those who use paper-based processes or a hybrid of paper and electronics to source a system that suits their need entirely. We have already developed a tender management solution that is intuitive and scalable for procurements of any size.
• Should a contracting authority choose to exclude a bidder from the procurement process as a result of a prior public contract failing, for example persistent deficiencies in performance which led to early termination of said contract, damages or comparable sanctions, they must ensure their contract management is efficient and they are able to demonstrate those "significant or persistent deficiencies". The bidder now has a right to reply, meaning the authority's case must to be watertight.
Regardless of these latest provisions, the legislation acts only as a framework for procurement in the public sector and the responsibility continues to fall to contracting authorities to ensure their tender methods are robust, transparent and competitive.
Provided all parties prepare and invest in preparation for the selection process, 2015 looks set to be a year which provides ample opportunity for improved understanding and better alignment of resource.
☛ Clare Tetlow is senior procurement manager on behalf of Re:allies