UK issues guidance on corruption in procurement

5 March 2019

The government has focused its latest Procurement Policy Notice on strengthening and supplementing procedures on corruption, conflict of interest and whistleblowing.

In a notice issued by the Cabinet Office, government agencies have been advised to familiarise themselves with their procurement obligations to exclude bidders who have committed serious offences and manage conflicts of interest in public procurement.

The notice also signposts the whistleblowing process for civil servants who are concerned about perceived wrongdoing in procurement.

It said: “Although the UK enjoys higher levels of integrity than many other countries, we are not immune from the effects of corruption.”

According to the note, public bodies must request and verify up-to-date evidence from the winning bidder before the award of the contract.

If a supplier fails to provide the required evidence within a set time period or is found to meet requirements for a mandatory exclusion, including criminal acts such as bribery, money laundering, human trafficking and modern slavery, the contract should not be awarded.

Mandatory exclusion should be applied by public agencies if it has been verified that the bidder has been convicted of certain offences in UK national law and must be applied if the convicted person is a member of the bidder’s administrative, management or supervisory body or has power of decision, the note said.

While mandatory exclusion only applies in cases of conviction for specific criminal offences, agencies are able to apply discretionary exclusions in cases of, for example, grave professional misconduct which renders the supplier’s integrity questionable.

The note also advises that applying the exclusion rules is not dependent on a supplier’s size, rather it is the severity of the offence or misdeed that is relevant.

Organisations “must treat suppliers equally and without discrimination” in their application of the exclusion grounds, it said.

Suppliers bidding for public contracts must also self-declare their status against the exclusion grounds, for the agency to verify prior to awarding the contract.

Suppliers that provide misleading information may face significant consequences, such as being excluded from the procurement procedure and from bidding for other public contracts for three years, the note said.

As well as measures to tackle corruption, government agencies also have a responsibility to take appropriate measures to avoid a conflict of interest.

Suppliers bidding for contracts can be excluded where conflicts of interest arise that cannot be effectively remedied.

Any measures taken to remedy a conflict of interest, such as the removal of a staff member from the team running the procurement, should be documented in a procurement report.

Civil servants concerned about corruption or conflicts of interest should refer to their organisation’s whistleblowing policy, which will outline the internal process that should be followed.

However, evidence of criminal or unlawful activity should be reported to the police or other appropriate regulatory authorities.

The note said: “We have strong systems in place to detect and tackle corruption, but the nature of this activity demands ongoing effort to maintain our capability in both central and local government.”

Ahead of the UK’s planned exit from the European Union on 29 March, the notice said that public procurement regulations will be largely unchanged whether the UK leaves with a deal or not as current regulations will be amended to ensure they remain “operable and functional”.

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