Streamlining procurement

Councils want to harness their spending power to get greater social value from public contracts

The LGA has been campaigning for many years to allow greater flexibility in procurement rules. 

As former EU laws begin to be reviewed, we are beginning to work in partnership with the Government to explore opportunities to refresh the rules that govern how the public sector buys its goods and services.  

This doesn’t mean that there will be a regulatory ‘cliff edge’ at the end of the transition period on 1 January 2021. The existing Public Contracts Regulations (2015) will continue to apply.

There is, however, the opportunity to reform the rules for future years while still ensuring that they stay true to their core purpose of delivering full value for public money in a fair and transparent way. 

This imperative to streamline the procurement rule book has been championed by councils for many years. Local government has been keen to harness the power of the public purse to help drive sustainable local economic and environmental wellbeing.

“Councils need a simple and efficient public procurement regime that respects local decision-making”

As first was going to press, the LGA understands that the Government is likely to launch a Green Paper for consultation on reform of the public procurement regime in the coming months, and a new national policy statement for public procurement. 

This in turn may well result in new legislation.

While our international trade obligations will remain, councils have offered ideas to root public procurement more firmly in a broad set of values that delivers local priorities, assists local businesses and helps to ‘level up’ inequalities in the UK economy. 

The focus of the national debate is expected to centre on creating greater social value from public contracts; creating new businesses, jobs and new skills; improving supplier diversity, innovation and resilience; and tackling climate change and reducing waste.

If these reforms go ahead, the Government is likely to push for a strong focus on commercial delivery and boosting the commercial capability of the public sector, and closer partnership working between councils and public bodies.

The LGA has already been feeding in councils’ views to shape thinking in Whitehall. Councils spend more than £60 billion a year on goods, services and works, according to councils’ own published spending data. 

The message is that councils need a simple and efficient public procurement regime that ensures the best value for public money and, crucially, one that respects local decision-making. 

Opportunities to introduce new flexibilities and allow stronger support for local economies and jobs are therefore at the heart of the LGA’s message, as well as better levers to support environmental goals in line with local priorities.

Also on the LGA shopping list are shorter timescales, lighter-touch advertising requirements and award procedures, reduced risk of legal complications, a speedier way of dealing with legal challenges, greater negotiation with suppliers, and an even greater focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and voluntary community and social enterprises (VCSEs).

Much still depends on the outcome of discussions over the coming months. The LGA continues to work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on what the details of trade agreements might mean for councils.

For more information about the LGA’s European and international work, please visit www.local.gov.uk/topics/european-and-international

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