New public procurement law is expected in this parliamentary session ©  John and Tina Reid/Getty Images
New public procurement law is expected in this parliamentary session © John and Tina Reid/Getty Images

Legislation no 'silver bullet' for procurement reform

17 September 2021

UK reform of public procurement must allow greater commercial judgement for buyers, an event was told.

Malcom Harrison, group CEO at CIPS, warned upcoming reforms must allow for flexibility “because you cannot legislate for every possible eventuality”.

Speaking at Procurex National, Harrison said: “We're going to have to get to a place where we have the confidence to allow people to exercise more commercial judgement.”

Reform of public procurement is expected in this parliamentary session. Brexit minister Lord David Frost, speaking in the House of Lords on 16 September, said a review of EU legislation carried over following Brexit was taking place. “We are planning to reform procurement rules,” he said.

The UK government currently spends £290bn on public procurement every year. 

The Transforming Public Procurement green paper published in December promised a “historic opportunity to overhaul our outdated public procurement regime”.

The document set out proposals including establishing new dynamic purchasing systems, encouraging buyers to consider value over cost, and introducing new flexible procedures to allow buyers greater opportunity to engage with suppliers. 

Speaking on a panel, Lindsey Maguire, head of engagement, commercial policy in the Cabinet Office, said while the reforms offer new opportunities following Brexit, they were not simply “a mechanism to buy British”. She said “legislation itself is not going to be a silver bullet” for procurement reform. 

She instead argued new competitive flexible procedures will allow for innovation and present a “huge opportunity for the public sector”. 

Oliver Kirsch, strategic futures team lead at Connected Places Catapult, said competitive flexible procedures would “drive through the tension between flexibility, transparency and fairness”. He said new structures would create “innovative solutions using those new tools and the new approaches that are being unlocked”.

Harrison said procurement leaders had to “recognise that we are operating in a regulated environment”. 

“There's a real dichotomy here that public sector procurement has got to deal with that challenge of having to have a set of regulations because it's taxpayers money, and therefore you have to be able to demonstrate that you're spending in a correct, fair and proper way,” he said.

“And then on the other hand, how do you have that flexibility, which allows you to get the best out of your suppliers?” 

Maguire raised the importance of collaboration across sectors in the reforms, highlighting the PPE crisis to show the importance of collaboration over competition in times of crisis. She said the government had engaged with suppliers to raise awareness of the reforms and to gain policy insight.

Maguire said: “If we can get the procurements right, the suppliers will be able to react to that and the systems and the processes will be in place [so] suppliers will come with us on that journey.”

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