The great debate – should the UK withdraw from the EU procurement regs?

The other evening, in the upstairs room of a rather hot but very nice pub in Bloomsbury, the key question of our day was debated by 40 procurement people - this house believes that the UK should withdraw from the EU procurement regime.

Proposing the motion were Martin Webb, ex-CPO of Orange and now an adviser to public and private sectors, supported by Peter Mickelwright of Fulcre; opposing were Lee Tribe, Procurement Director for the Metropolitan Police, supported by John Pendlebury-Green of Landseer Partners , whose experience of Government goes back to working on the Gershon Review.

The arguments for the UK withdrawing were many and varied but there was less overt anti-EU sentiment than I perhaps expected! The key arguments, very well made, were more around the view that the UK is pretty good at procurement, and would do absolutely fine if we could make our own, perhaps more appropriate rules. The EU was still trying to get it right with the Regs after 40 years - what makes us think they'll ever succeed? There was also the point that most EU countries don't seem to apply the rules quite as rigorously as the UK; so we might as well do our own thing...

Arguing against, Lee Tribe claimed that the public procurement regulations were entirely responsible for the lack of wars in Europe for the last 50 years, and we should introduce them to the Middle East and see if they had the same effect! He also pointed out that we would have to leave the EU to get out of the regs, and persuasively called on the British sense of fair play and our love to queueing to suggest that we actually don't mind them too much, but we just like moaning about them!

More seriously, he and John both made the strong point that it is not the rules that lead to bad procurement practice; it is lack of understanding of them, how to work within them without being bureaucratic, and that we needed to educate people more to work effectively AND legally .

And, after some lively interventions and questions from the floor (and some more beer),  I think it was that argument that swayed the day ultimately, as the motion - somewhat to my surprise - was defeated on about a 60:40 majority. The 'noes' had it, as they would say in the House. The consensus seemed to be that we would have to have rules anyway, and although not perfect, you can work successfully within the Regs if you know what you're doing.

So many thanks to everyone who attended, particular thanks to the speakers, BravoSolution for sponsoring and taking on the organisation of the event, with support from Fulcre, and I'm sure there will be more debates to come...

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Voices (2)

  1. bitter and twisted:

    Do public sector purchasing recruiters send interviewees a list of the interview questions and the candidate-criteria-marking system?

    If not – why not?

  2. Tim Williams:

    Well I’m pleased to see that common sense prevailed if only by a fairly marginal amount. I think the points made by Lee and John are quite correct, it’s not the procurement directives that cause bad procurement and it is perfectly possible to operate a very effective procurement system within the rules. In my view it is individual organisations that themselves introduce policies on quality, equal opportunities, sustainability, etc., that are themselves no really a problem but then they apply them inappriopriately. A substantial theme we are seeing at the moment is ever increasing requirements around data security but in an environment of poor understanding there is a rush to over specification.

    But back to the EU Directives, even if the UK could withdraw from them, we’re still covered by the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), which imposes an almost identical framework. I suppose we could withdraw from that as well, but personally I don’t think that an increasingly isolationist policy is going to benefit a trading nation like the UK.

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