UK Government procurement – Stalinist laws to enforce central procurement policy?

The Cabinet Office issued a Discussion Paper before Christmas that is now being discussed with increasing degrees of panic around the public sector, particularly in central government and its associated bodies. It is not confidential, although it has not been discussed in the media as far as I can see, and indeed you can download it here from the SOPO (Society of Purchasing Officers in Local Government) website for instance.

It relates to the new EU Procurement Regulations, and how the UK is going to ‘transpose’ these (as the jargon goes) into UK legislation – making it law, in other words. We haven’t featured the new regulations much here, although we will, now it is becoming clear what is actually going to be different.

But the issue that is causing some consternation here is around the use of ‘central purchasing bodies’. These are organisations that buy or place contracts on behalf of multiple contracting authorities. So that includes Government Procurement Service / Crown Commercial Service, the regional local authority based consortia like ESPO and YPO, as well as various health, police and educational organisations.

The new regulations clarify how they can be used, but the key phrase in the new regulations is this;

“Member States may provide that certain procurements shall be made by having recourse to central purchasing bodies or to one or more specific central purchasing bodies”.

And the key word is “shall”. So Member States, like the UK, can make it mandatory for public bodies to buy from central purchasing bodies. You would be breaking the law if you don’t follow the mandate!

And the discussion document says this, making it clear that this is the Cabinet Office intent to do this for central government, and hinting that they might extend it further:

Cabinet Office will transpose this provision to reinforce the existing mandate on central Government departments to procure common goods and services through the new CCS... 

However, to understand the position in the wider public sector, Cabinet Office would find it helpful to have a full picture of the extent to which use of central purchasing bodies is already mandated in the public sector and in the utilities sector. What policies or legislative provisions are already in place to require certain procurements to be made through central purchasing bodies? Is compliance with policy instructions an issue? What categories of procurements are subject to this requirement? Which central purchasing bodies are specified? Are these requirements likely to change in future and, if so, how”?

This raises all sorts of questions, as you might imagine. It appears to play into the hands of the uber-centralisers in Cabinet Office and elsewhere, but there are all sorts of interesting issues. We’ll be back with our immediate thoughts on those tomorrow.

First Voice

  1. Becky Welbourn:

    If the purpose of this discussion document is to provide reassurance in Government Purchasing may I suggest that the attention to detail class is revisited by the authors. Unless of course the the seeking of views by Close of Play really is Monday 13 January 2013!?

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