Fears have been raised the UK's Procurement Bill could increase the risk of illegality and corruption because of the way it deals with the provision of information to unsuccessful bidders in tenders.
Currently debrief letters are required to be sent to losing bidders informing them of the merits and weaknesses of their bid and establishing the reasons they were not selected.
But the Procurement Bill states public bodies will only have to provide “assessment summaries”, and it is not specified what these will entail or if they will have to include assessments for unsuccessful bidders.
Paul Henty, partner at Beale & Company Solicitors, told Supply Management debrief letters were “critical to help the unsuccessful bidders to access the fairness of the award as well as to improve future tenders”.
“Unless further guidance or regulations follow on this, there is a real fear that bidders will have a harder time spotting illegality in awards, making it harder to challenge unlawful processes – particularly if buyers are allowed to redact summaries,” he said.
“There must also be a fear that reduced transparency around the award of lucrative contracts may help corruption go undetected.”
Martin McTague, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, warned scrapping debrief letters would limit the ability of SMEs to improve.
“The new Procurement Bill could be a game-changer for small businesses looking to tap into public procurement, setting the tone for a fairer and more accessible process,” he said.
“But a key amendment to this bill could bring tremendous benefits to SMEs vying for public contracts: reversing the decision to scrap debrief letters for unsuccessful bidders.
“Feedback is one of the only ways businesses can grow and improve – so without it, how can companies be expected to up their game?
“That risks creating an imbalanced playing field, where the same companies win contracts repeatedly, while others continue to fall behind, resulting in an unfair system.”
A government spokesperson said:
"The Procurement Bill will create a simpler and more flexible commercial system that will strengthen the opportunities available to SMEs by making it easier for them to win government contracts.
"Under the new regulations all unsuccessful suppliers will now receive formal Assessment Summaries which will include the vital information for suppliers to understand why they did not win the contract."
A government spokesperson said debrief letters will be replaced by assessments summaries, which will be provided to unsucessful bidders and will give “vital information for suppliers to understand why they did not win the contract”.
They continued: “The Procurement Bill will create a simpler and more flexible commercial system that will strengthen the opportunities available to SMEs by making it easier for them to win government contracts.”
Speaking at CIPS Procurement Futures, Samantha Ulyatt, chief commercial officer at the Home Office, said the Procurement Bill was a “real opportunity” for change.
“There have been so many so many procurement professionals as well as suppliers that have told me everything that was wrong with the current legislation. So of course, why wouldn't everyone want to be involved with making it right and giving it flexibility?”
She said new requirements to publish information about how suppliers are performing will give “real competitive advantage” to “smart” procurement professionals.
“The smartness of this is that you're going to have shed loads of data – so much data – the smart people will be looking at what data is relevant, and what data is going give them that competitive advantage.”
Lindsay Maguire, head of engagement of procurement reform at the Cabinet Office, said: “The bill itself is quite wide-reaching. And that's why we're pitching it as being a transformation. It's also a really good opportunity for us to champion our function and to really dig down into the benefits that procurement can bring.”
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