The UK government has announced an overhaul of procurement regulations as it struggles to shake off revelations about state contracts awarded to help tackle the Covid-19 crisis.
Whilst the latest contract disclosures may or may not put the government in the spotlight regarding the level of diligence and scrutiny that sat behind the procurement decisions made to source and supply PPE in particular, such an overhaul of regulations is too good an opportunity to miss.
For those of us working in the procurement profession (both public and private sector) such disclosures are clearly not a positive reflection on the professionalism that we have fought hard to uphold. At a time when highly-effective sourcing, negotiation and supplier relationship management skills were needed to help the country through a global pandemic, it appears that our core processes were found lacking.
The Cabinet Office has announced a consultation on a green paper setting out proposals to transform public procurement by speeding up and simplifying procurement processes. The consultation is due to close on 10 March 2021.
Many procurement professionals will have worked in both the public and private sectors and seen first-hand good and bad examples of procurement. I’m sure many would agree that if the best elements of private sector procurement (e.g. agility and responsiveness to business need) were combined with the best elements of regulated public sector procurement (e.g. process governance and transparency), then better outcomes could be achieved on the £290 billion spent on public procurement every year.
The National Audit Office recently reported that in the months following the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic the UK government awarded around £18 billion of contracts to support the emergency response. Whilst there is no doubt of the unprecedented need to move swiftly to secure the supply chain for PPE and other equipment and services required, there is little doubt that value for money was not delivered in all cases and many contracts awarded were not robust or properly risk assessed.
The current Public Contract Regulations do provide emergency provisions for executing procurement exercise during times of crisis. However, the consultation on the reforms proposed in the green paper are an opportunity to take a much broader view on the entire regulations and their fitness for purpose in the trading conditions the UK faces as we leave the EU.
The consultation by the Cabinet Office could be the perfect opportunity for the entire procurement profession to come together, harmonise our collective expertise and inform significant improvements to regulated public sector procurement rules. Perhaps even more importantly, ensure that the UK is better prepared for any future emergency situation and the role that our profession can play in achieving this.
☛ Bob Alabaster is associate director at procurement consultancy Hawtrey Dene.