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A Bird’s Eye View of the Procurement Bill

The opportunities, impact, and the next steps for the Procurement Bill. 

As the Procurement Bill makes its way through parliament, the country inches closer to legislation designed to overhaul and modernise government procurement processes following Brexit.   

The Bill is wide-ranging and aims to improve the current procurement regime by:  

  1. Creating a simpler and more flexible commercial system that better meets the UK’s needs while remaining compliant with international obligations.  

  1. Opening up public procurement to new entrants, especially small businesses and social enterprises so that they can compete for and win more public contracts.  

  1. Embedding transparency throughout the commercial procurement lifecycle so that the spending of taxpayer's money can be properly scrutinised.  

Debate on the Bill in parliament, and more recently amendments tabled by members focus on transparency, addressing fraud and underperformance following contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic, national cybersecurity, and promoting access for SMEs and local businesses.  

Opportunities and risks for the tech sector  

Overall, the tech sector welcomes the principles of the legislation. The focus around simplifying the procurement process and improving transparency throughout is expected to make it easier for tech businesses to engage with government procurement. Similarly, the focus on including SMEs throughout the procurement process should be advantageous to smaller tech businesses and start-ups who may have struggled to engage with this market in the past.  

The Bill will introduce three different types of procurement procedures: the ‘Open Procedure’, the ‘Competitive Flexible Procedure’ and a limited tendering procedure for urgent situations. The competitive flexible procedure aims to allow for greater flexibility within the process which has the potential to support procurement from innovative organisations and products.  This process has been signposted by the Government as a way for tech start-ups to be included within the procurement process. Detailed guidance is expected around the competitive flexible procedures, and the circumstances in which they are appropriate.   

The Bill is very much an evolution rather than a revolution. There is a risk that it will not go far enough in simplifying what is a very complex landscape for businesses and that SMEs will still not be adequately supported when navigating government procurement. Similarly, the risk of being added to a “debarment register”, which excludes businesses that have not delivered on contracts in the past, may lead to companies working on innovative solutions and products to not engage as they fear the consequences of a product or workability failure.   

Measuring the Bill’s Impact  

The improved transparency in procurement will provide a rich data landscape to evaluate the impact of new processes –whether the Bill has made procurement quicker and easier, and for which parties. However, while the Bill changes the framework for procurement, a lot of change will be down to cultural change and behaviour in contracting authorities. It will be important for the Government to support authorities to be confident to pursue innovation in procurement while also safeguarding against any possible areas of abuse.  

Next steps  

The Bill is currently in the House of Commons at Committee Stage, having passed through the House of Lords. It is expected to receive Royal Assent in the next couple of months.   

The Bill itself relies on lots of further guidance and secondary legislation which will follow once the Bill has passed through Parliament. Timelines for this are still to be confirmed and there will also be a six months’ notice period before the regime comes into full effect to allow for businesses to adapt to the new regulations.  techUK will continue to engage and keep our members informed of important developments. 

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