New public procurement regulations, which come into force in England, Wales and Northern Ireland today, are set to transform public sector procurement for the better, opening the door for negotiation, innovation and ultimately better value for money.
Far from being afraid of change, we should embrace a new procedure – the 'competitive procedure with negotiation' – and make the most of what it offers.
This is an exciting development, as the European Commission appears to have listened to the frustrations of contracting authorities, making the rules clearer and offering more flexibility.
No longer a dirty word, "negotiation" is back in vogue and procurement is looking sexy again.
Public sector procurement professionals are starting to feel the sun return. Their talents to persuade and influence – so long locked away in the cupboard of yesteryear – can finally be brushed off and worn with pride.
Since 2006 the public sector has had a love-hate relationship with procurement regulations. On the one hand, they provide a framework within which contracting authorities should operate. They provide guidance on operating in an open and transparent manner, and they ensure our European partners are not excluded from contracting opportunities.
On the other hand, they are ambiguous in places and have created a risk-averse culture among public sector bodies, making the job of the procurement professional a challenging one.
Under the 2006 regulations initial supplier challenges were often based around contracting authorities not clearly defining (and not following) their published evaluation criteria. Procuring teams relied on intelligence from the supply market during the tender process to ensure they contracted on the correct basis for their organisation. Savvy suppliers who were unsuccessful picked up on this and, although the contracting authority’s aim was to get the best result for their organisation, they had not complied with the regulations and were suitably punished, either in or out of court.
Without realising it, contracting authorities started opting for "safe" procurements – a specification was issued, a set of evaluation criteria developed and a chosen regulated procedure followed, regardless of what gems may have been uncovered during the tendering process. As a result, innovation suffered.
I believe these new regulations pave the way to create a much smoother path to achieving value for money and innovation within public sector services.
Contracting authorities entering into discussions during the process, with a view to improving the content of each bidder’s offer, provides an excellent opportunity for suppliers to tailor and improve their solutions as well as their financial offering, which would have been lost through more traditional means of procuring.
Developing social value within our supply partner arrangements may also no longer be something we only dream of. The opportunity to really bring it to life will now be possible, as purchasers look to improve social outcomes by entering into discussions prior to receiving final tenders.
☛ Catherine Cooper is head of procurement and supply chain management at Thrive Homes