Although it applies with immediate effect, it has been introduced to underpin the new procurement regime. The Procurement Bill on transforming public procurement in England and Wales is expected to be published in the autumn.
One of the core aims of the EU procurement regime was to 'level the playing field' for public sector procurement across the Member States. The UK Government is now able to set its own agenda for public procurement and this is reflected in the policy statement.
Contracting authorities are required to have regard to three national priority outcomes in designing their procurement strategies:
None of these national priorities should come as a surprise. Many local authorities, universities and other public sector bodies will already be taking steps to design contract specifications, and introduce social value award criteria with these areas in mind.
The policy statement also includes two other themes:
Much of the guidance around having appropriate policies and processes is not new and represents best practice. For example, contracting authorities should:
However there are a number of requirements which will raise practical challenges - by increasing the administration burden on contracting authorities and requiring a change in culture in how departments interact with their procurement teams. A good example of this is the greater focus on publication of procurement pipelines with the Procurement Bill likely to include sanctions for non-compliance. The policy statement states that these should be published annually, looking forward 18 months but ideally three to five years ahead. This will require additional resource and planning.
The policy statement also recommends that contracting authorities carry out an internal review to assess their procurement and contract management capability and benchmark themselves annually against relevant commercial and procurement operating standards, such as the National Procurement Strategy Toolkit produced by the Local Government Association.
The risk is that all this additional workload may detract from the ability of procurement teams to deliver the simplified, faster and more flexible forms of procurement promised by the procurement reforms.