Sophie Mcfie-Hyland asks whether changes to the "transparency" requirements of the new public procurement regime will prove beneficial or burdensome for contracting authorities.
On 30th June, the Government published “Transforming Public Procurement – our transparency ambition” (the “Policy Paper”).
Those following the Procurement Bill’s (the “Bill”) passage through Parliament will have noted that ‘transparency’ no longer features as an express procurement principle and is to be replaced with specific steps to be taken by contracting authorities (“CAs”) to “share information”. The Policy Paper proposes an expansion of the types of information CAs report on, improved usability of this data through common identifiers and the creation of a single platform through which this data can be accessed.
What measures are proposed?
The main proposals are as follows:
- New procurement notices – These notices, outlined in the Bill, will cover the entire procurement lifecycle with thirteen different notices outlined, though they will not all be relevant to every procurement.
- A suppliers’ registration service – Using this service, suppliers can input information about their businesses or answer frequently asked questions. These responses must then be used by all CAs during procurements.
- New digital platform – All notices will be displayed publicly on a new online platform. Data will be published to the Open Contracting Data Standard (“OCDS”) and cover contract performance, how much has been spent through them and how long they have left to run.
What are the benefits of these proposals?
From the point of view of the tax payer, the reforms allow greater visibility of how taxpayer money is spent and allow public authorities to be held to account.
For CAs, the Government states that greater visibility will allow access to a more diverse range of suppliers, better data on opportunities to collaborate with other authorities leading to reduced costs and more efficiency, and the availability of data leading to easier detection of fraud or corruption from suppliers.
Will this amount to a further burden for CAs?
The Government recognises that the proposals could lead to increased burdens on CAs. Concerns around the increased pressures on CAs have been raised since the publication of the Transforming Public Procurement green paper; the Local Government Association, for example, stated in their consultation response that they were “particularly concerned about the additional administrative burden on councils who deliver more than 800 different services to their communities.”
The Government has sought to provide comfort by indicating:
- systems will be simple, clear and user friendly with explanatory text when necessary;
- the digital platform will be able to take relevant data directly from eProcurement and contract management systems to avoid duplication (though CA’s will also be able to publish directly on the system if they prefer);
- the platform will provide the commercial insights to CAs allowing them to fully understand the markets and make better informed commercial decisions; and
- the information provided will be proportional to the size of the contract, removing unnecessary bureaucracy for low value contracts.
While the Government’s proposals provide more information, the publication of several new notices as well as data throughout the lifetime of a contract may remain a cause for concern especially for CAs who may have limited resources to comply.
Much of the specific detail on transparency reforms will be included in secondary legislation. The Government has also committed to a six-month lead in period after the Bill comes into force; as such, CAs will have some time to get to grips with their new transparency obligations.
Sophie Mcfie-Hyland is an Associate at Sharpe Pritchard LLP, with contributions by Beth Edwards.
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