Suppliers working on public contracts should be retained wherever possible © iStockphoto/Getty Images
Suppliers working on public contracts should be retained wherever possible © iStockphoto/Getty Images

Law: Coronavirus advice for public procurement

Local authorities and services in the UK have been using a variety of sourcing methods during this challenging time.

As public bodies continue to work under great pressure to ensure crisis management supplies and services are in place, Susie Smith of law firm Bevan Brittan summarises recent UK government advice.

In March, the Cabinet Office published a procurement note (PPN 01/20) relating to Covid-19 which is addressed to contracting authorities. These measures are not new but are a reminder of how authorities can procure goods and services quickly.

This includes purchasing from existing framework agreements or dynamic purchasing systems, and making direct contract awards without the need to advertise – this can be done due to reasons of “extreme urgency”. It may also be possible to modify existing contracts – there is a range of situations in which this is allowed, including circumstances which a “diligent” purchaser “could not have foreseen”.

In urgent cases, the timescale for receipt of tenders in an open procedure can also be reduced to 15 days plus the 10-day standstill period. Altering procurements that are already underway to take account of Covid-19 may be possible provided authorities comply with the principles of transparency and equal treatment.

At the same time, in a crisis such as this, public authorities have a responsibility to their own supply chains, as another procurement note (PPN 02/20) reminds them. This sets out principles designed to support suppliers, such as: authorities should pay suppliers as quickly as possible, should continue to pay suppliers who are “at risk” on a “continuity and retention basis” and consider making advance payments.

Taken together, these notes underline the extent to which public authorities and private providers rely upon each other and need to work together in the challenging circumstances affecting us all.

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