Scottish government calls for EU procurement reform

26 October 2011

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26 October 2011 | Adam Leach

The Scottish government wants reform of European Union (EU) procurement rules so it can use public procurement more strategically.

Giving the opening address at yesterday’s Procurex conference in Glasgow, Alex Neil, cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital investment, said the government has written to the EU highlighting the need for member states to be able to factor in wider economic impacts when awarding contracts. “The balance needs to be readjusted a bit more in favour of indigenous businesses,” he said.

The government has lobbied the EU to increase the threshold at which contracts are subjected to competition rules. Speaking to SM, director, commercial and procurement in the Scottish government Alastair Merrill said regulation around contracts should be more proportionate to the financial rewards: “At the moment, even if it is a £150,000 contract, it’s got to go through OJEU, so you can’t take into account local economic considerations. I don’t think that’s proportionate.

“If we can get an increase in the threshold and some ability to factor in economic and social considerations, then we can use procurement in a much more intelligent fashion. It’s not to be protectionist, but to regenerate communities, develop skilled workforces and help businesses that may need a leg up to get to that critical mass and become world beaters.”

Asked how procurement’s profile has risen as a result of the need to deliver savings, Merrill said: “It’s a sea change in how policy is designed and how services are delivered. One of the first things they [policy makers] think about in policy design and delivery is, ‘how do we go to market?’, and, ‘how do we ensure we procure in the most intelligent way possible?’. That’s a fantastic opportunity for the procurement profession.”

However, he added it was also a huge challenge and buyers needed to “step up to the mark”.

The move comes amid a range of domestic initiatives to give smaller businesses access to public contracts in Scotland. The government launched Supplier Journey, a website that provides a step-by-step guide to companies seeking to bid for public contracts. It also announced that it will be rolling out a revised pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) to make bidding easier. Through the online system, bidding parties will be able to create a standardised PQQ that can be tailored to fit specific tenders.

Hopes of seeing the reforms enacted by the EU will have been further strengthened by the news that MEPs yesterday voted in favour of the principles of a report on modernising EU procurement. The report advocated clear and flexible rules and making procurement procedures simpler, cheaper, more open to SMEs and more conducive to investment.

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