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Electric vehicle charging infrastructure: future proof procurement

Nadeem Arshad and Kyle Duggan set out how contracting authorities can use their procurement strategies to boost the move to electric vehicles.

The recent fuel supply shock now seems to be abating however it has thrown into sharp relief the pressures of delivering the shift from petrol and diesel vehicles to electric vehicles (EV). A core part of the drive to net zero is that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will cease from 2030 with all new cars being wholly zero emission from 2035, [1] but as recent headlines have demonstrated many people, businesses and public services are still heavily reliant on their existing (and typically high carbon fuelled) vehicles.

In this article we examine some of the ways that contracting authorities can support the shift to electric vehicles via their procurement strategies. This promises to be a dynamic area of investment over coming years, something highlighted by the Governments’ very recent announcement of an additional £620 million in grant funding to support charging infrastructure roll-out.

Public procurement intersects with the switch to electric vehicles in a number of ways. Firstly, and crucially, contracting authority support is likely to be required to drive the infrastructure needed to enable the mass delivery of EV in the short timeframe available. This may not require local authorities to commit significant funds however. We are seeing local authorities advertise concession opportunities for the installation and operation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the public realm. This type of model can have significant benefits. It opens up charging infrastructure to residents/vehicle owners who do not have an off-street location in which to house a dedicated chargepoint. Opting for a concession model requires the transfer of risk to the concessionaire and can be revenue neutral or revenue positive for the contracting authority. Providing electric vehicle charging infrastructure may also help local authorities deliver their own climate and environment commitments and contribute towards the national push to net zero. The award of concession contracts valued at above the relevant threshold [2] is currently governed by the Concessions Contracts Regulations 2016. However, general procurement reform is on the horizon (see our article on the Procurement Green Paper) and it appears that the direction of travel will be that the concession-specific regime will be scrapped and rules governing concessions included within a single set of rules for all contract awards.

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Whilst EV concession opportunities can offer a number of benefits, we have also seen straight procurement opportunities including long-term contracts for the installation and maintenance of EV charging infrastructure. There are also frameworks and dynamic purchasing systems in existence that allow contracting authorities to call-off supplies or services related to electric vehicles or electric vehicle infrastructure. Fleet management and the transition to electric is a key consideration for contracting authorities delivering blue light services in particular. Again frameworks or dynamic purchasing systems might offer one solution to assist with managing the transition but contracting authorities operating fleets who may wish to set up more bespoke arrangements will need to start planning now to ensure that their ability to transition to electric is supported by their procurement strategies.

On the EV supplier side opportunities are available now and suppliers will wish to ensure that they are competing in procurements and winning contracts so as to develop their business and be able to meet technical and professional experience requirements in future competitions. Where contracts are being called off via a dynamic purchasing system EV suppliers should be able to apply and join during the life of the system however frameworks that have already been established continue to be closed shops under the current regulatory framework (though limited in term to 4 years save in exceptional cases where justified by the subject matter of the framework). Competing for EV concession contracts requires a clear-eyed view of the value of the commercial opportunity on offer. In all regulated procurement it is essential to understand the architecture that the Courts have put in place through judgments about the interpretation of the various sets of regulations, the over-arching duties contracting authorities must adhere to and the scope of discretion afforded to evaluators in marking bids.

The Government has announced that an EV Infrastructure strategy will be published later this year setting out roles for the public and private sector in meeting the challenge of scaling up infrastructure in a short space of time. There has also very recently been additional public grant funding of £620 million announced to support charging infrastructure installation with a focus on on-street residential charging. [3].

Bevan Brittan have a dedicated Energy and Resource Management team who are advising clients on EV projects across the UK. This includes a market leading team of procurement lawyers who have extensive experience in supporting clients on procurement design and the conduct of complex procedures, as well as assisting suppliers to challenge procuring authorities which may not have conducted their procurement in a fair and transparent way.

Nadeem Arshad is a partner and Kyle Duggan is an Associate at Bevan Brittan.

[1]  The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, November 2020

[2]  Currently £4,733,252

[3]  Net Zero Strategy, published 19 October 2021.

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