Exceptions to the rules

26 July 2010
As you may have seen in the latest issue of SM, a number of countries are in trouble with the European Commission because they haven’t introduced the latest public procurement rules. Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Portugal and Slovenia now have another two months to bring in the regulations that help rejected suppliers - six months after they were meant to, and more than three years after the legislation was first proposed. Last week the Commission also published reports into the progress of Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to the EU. In Bulgaria: “The implementation of the conflict of interest law is insufficiently effective. Shortcomings in the implementation of public procurement procedures are widespread.” And across the border in Romania: “Substantial improvements are required in protecting against conflict of interest and corruption in public procurement.” One might begin to wonder why these rather fundamental issues weren’t sorted out before the countries were accepted to join? Ultimately, British public sector buyers and suppliers are left feeling peeved. Few would argue with the goal of the directive – to improve the rights of vendors who have unfairly lost out on public deals. But it means more bureaucracy for public purchasers, eager to avoid unnecessary litigation. And, of course, if countries have not even implemented the directive, UK suppliers will have no remedy and are no closer to winning contracts in those places anyway. The only countries worse off are those who have implemented the legislation. It is not a surprise that opting out of public procurement rules (to save a claimed £3 million a year) is among the suggestions put forward to the government’s “spending challenge” website (which has since disappeared, possibly due to the “malicious attacks” the site has been receiving. As Dick Jennings suggests here, the rules in their current iteration are not working, and will need a radical overhaul, which will be a torturous process (and there’s no guarantee the EU will get it right). But in the meantime the Commission should take a tougher line on those not implementing the rules that currently exist.
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