Procurement in a Nutshell – The new Procurement Review Unit
3rd February, 2022
The Government published its Green Paper "Transforming Public Procurement" on 15 December 2020, with its aim to provide a modern, fit for purpose set of rules, improving and simplifying the procurement process.
In December 2021 the Government published its response to the consultation and the comments raised by over 600 organisations and individuals. As a result we now have a clearer indication of the reforms that the Government intends to introduce.
The Government plans to produce a draft Bill at some point in 2022. Further to the new legislation the Government will also introduce new secondary legislation or regulations to implement the new regime and produce “a detailed and comprehensive package of published resources (statutory and non-statutory guidance on the key elements of the regulatory framework, templates, model procedures and case studies)” to help contracting authorities and suppliers understand how the new regime will work.
Due to significant changes and the amount of work required to bring this all into effect it is unlikely that the new regime will be implemented until 2023 at the earliest. We can expect a draft Bill this year and the Government has said that it intends to give at least 6 months’ notice of “go-live”.
What this Nutshell covers
This Nutshell looks at the proposals to establish a new unit to oversee public procurement, to be advised by a panel of independent experts.
What the Green Paper said
The Green Paper proposed to establish a new unit with a remit to oversee wider issues of public procurement than is currently provided for, having identified that the current review process allows only a limited review of a particular procurement. Whilst targeted interventions would still be undertaken, the more general role of the new unit to oversee and spread best practice would enable all contracting parties to benefit from lessons learned which in turn would drive improvements in practice.
The unit would have two main purposes:
- Monitoring – including of issues raised as the new rules are implemented, and to ensure understanding and compliance
- Intervention – including the issue of improvement notices to individual contracting authorities. Recommendations would be enforceable by sanctions, yet to be confirmed, such as spending control measures
Investigations would be triggered by data analysis from the proposed new digital platform, as well as direct complaints. The resulting reports would be forwarded to a new independent panel of experts, drawn from a pool of established experts in their field, which would review reports and forward recommendations to the Minister for the Cabinet Office. In the interests of transparency, recommendations and the Minister’s decision would be published.
Results of the Consultation
The proposal was broadly welcomed. Some respondents were concerned about how the new unit would integrate both with the existing local government schemes of governance, and with the current regulated utilities sector. Respondents welcomed the prospect of improved standards and greater consistency, but highlighted the need for the new unit to be sufficiently resourced and staffed to operate effectively.
As a result of the consultation the government has revisited its plans for the new unit, to be called the Procurement Review Unit (PRU). One of the PRU’s roles will be to replace the Public Procurement Review Service (PPRS) and investigate instances of poor policy and practice. Their primary role however will be to identify common breaches which occur across contracting authorities, and specific breaches made regularly by individual contracting authorities. The legislation will therefore include powers for the PRU to investigate contracting authorities and powers, as yet unspecified, to ensure compliance in the future.
The government identified that any proposed legislation will need to have exemptions for those private utilities which already operate under special rights, but utilities and concession contracts in general will be covered by the new regime.
The Bill will contain provisions for the Cabinet Office to publish additional statutory guidance to address issues which have been commonly identified across a number of contracting authorities.
What this means
The new unit will increase the levels of central monitoring of public procurement and have greater scope to assess compliance with the regulations than that held by the existing PPRS. The PRU’s additional remit to identify and incorporate improvements across the board may mean that contracting authorities see more frequent communications regarding the processes of public procurement. Contracting authorities should gain from stronger central support during the procurement processes.
The composition and role of the panel of experts is less defined at present and we will expect further details from the government on this one. However, their work is unlikely to impact directly on contracting authorities, as it is more intended to ensure that reports and recommendations are relevant and enforceable.
If you have any queries on the issues raised or on any aspect of procurement, please contact one of our procurement specialists via our procurement hotline on 0330 137 3451
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.