The procurement policy note can be found here.
The procurement regulations permit in cases of "extreme urgency" for a contracting authority to directly appoint a contractor to provide essential works, services and suppliers under the negotiated procedure without a call for competition.
There have been many cases where extreme urgency has been argued but to date but none have been successful. At the end of 2018, the Government tried to rely upon this exception to award contracts to ferry operators for the provision of additional freight capacity between the UK and continental Europe in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Eurotunnel brought a procurement challenge seeking damages arguing that the strict conditions for relying upon "extreme urgency" were not met and that the consequences of a no-deal Brexit were foreseeable. The case ultimately settled out of court.
Under regulation 32(2)(c) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, it is necessary to demonstrate:
The impact of Coronavirus is being described as a national emergency. The PPN confirms our view that these are exactly the type of circumstances that ought to qualify under the exemption. Clearly, contracting authorities will need to demonstrate that the procurement is directly linked and limited to the extreme urgency. For example, hand sanitisers or additional IT equipment and software to enable home working might be justifiable, but business as normal procurements will not be. Contracting authorities should also keep a detailed audit trail of their decision making process.
The PPN is also a useful reminder that the light touch regime applies to specific health and social care services which may fall within the remit of local government and which permits a more flexible approach to tendering is permitted.
In addition it sets out a number of other tools which may be of assistance to hard pressed procurement officers trying to navigate around the procurement rules including relying upon the single source exemption, use of frameworks and modifying existing contracts.