The National Audit Office’s Report on its ‘Investigation into government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic’ found that the relaxation of the standard procurement rules to allow for extremely urgent acquisitions, mainly of PPE, resulted in alarmingly widespread levels of procedural impropriety in the award of up to £18bn in public contracts. Most notably, the NAO report revealed the existence of a ‘VIP procurement channel’ for those with political connections, which resulted in much higher chances of obtaining very lucrative contracts than for those retained under the ‘normal’ pool of potential suppliers. This adds to (and partly explains) earlier reports of very large PPE contracts awarded to companies with no proven track record in the PPE market. (more…)
By Prof Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law and Member of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (University of Bristol Law School)
On 30 September, the Centre for Health, Law, and Society had the honour of hosting an excellent panel of speakers for a webinar on ‘Healthcare procurement and commissioning during Covid-19: reflections and (early) lessons’. The speakers provided short presentations on a host of very complementary issues surrounding the reaction of NHS procurement and commissioning to the COVID-19 challenges. The ensuing discussion brought to light a number of general themes that are, by and large, aligned with the worries that others and I had expressed at the outset of the pandemic*, and a number of challenges that will shape the readjustment or reregulation of NHS procurement and commissioning in the medium and long term.
This blogpost initially provides some brief notes on the most salient points made by the speakers in their presentations, which do not aim to be exhaustive. It then goes on to offer my own reflections and views on what lessons can be extracted from the procurement and commissioning reaction to the first wave of Covid-19, which do not necessarily represent those of the panel of speakers. (more…)
Beyond its terrible death toll and massive public health implications, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures put in place to try to contain or mitigate it are bound to have severe and long-lasting economic effects. The European Union (EU) and its economic and financial governance now face very significant challenges, possibly exceeding those of the 2008 crisis. The way in which these challenges are addressed will not only determine the path and speed of European (economic) recovery, but perhaps also pave the way for further changes beyond the pandemic. Here I reflect on some implications of the COVID-19 response for EU-wide public debt instruments. (more…)
By Prof Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Law and Innovation (University of Bristol Law School).
Public procurement is at the forefront of the response to the challenges of COVID-19. Only well-equipped hospitals can save patients’ lives without endangering those of the medical, nursing and support workers in the NHS. Shortages of relatively simple consumables such as personal protection equipment (PPE), but also cleaning and hygiene products, can endanger lives and have devastating effects on the resilience of the healthcare system to (continue to) cope with the pandemic. Shortages of essential equipment such as ventilators can have even more direct nefarious impacts on individual lives.
The importance of public procurement and supply chain management has rarely been so prominently in the public eye and political debate—except, perhaps, in the case of notorious procurement scandals, such as the recent Brexit-related #ferrygate. In this blog post, I reflect on some of the emerging issues in the procurement response to COVID-19 and on the perhaps even bigger challenges that will follow, from a regulatory perspective. (more…)
While carrying out research on the impact of digital technologies for public procurement governance, I have realised that the deployment of artificial intelligence to promote sustainability through public procurement holds some promise. There are many ways in which machine learning can contribute to enhance procurement sustainability.
For example, new analytics applied to open transport data can significantly improve procurement planning to support more sustainable urban mobility strategies, as well as the emergence of new models for the procurement of mobility as a service (MaaS).* Machine learning can also be used to improve the logistics of public sector supply chains, as well as unlock new models of public ownership of eg cars. It can also support public buyers in identifying the green or sustainable public procurement criteria that will deliver the biggest improvements measured against any chosen key performance indicator, such as CO2 footprint, as well as support the development of robust methodologies for life-cycle costing.
However, it is also evident that artificial intelligence can only be effectively deployed where the public sector has an adequate data architecture.** While advances in electronic procurement and digital contract registers are capable of generating that data architecture for the future, there is a significant problem concerning the digitalisation of information on the outcomes of past procurement exercises and the current stock of assets owned and used by the public sector. In this blog, I want to raise awareness about this gap in public sector information and to advocate for the public sector to invest in learning what it already owns as a potential major contribution to sustainability in procurement, in particular given the catalyst effect this could have for a more circular procurement economy. (more…)
Together with competition and integrity, transparency is one of the fundamental pillars of every procurement system around the world. Much of the efforts to ensure probity in the expenditure of public funds through procurement concentrate on mandating competition-enabling transparency of contract opportunities and accountability-facilitating transparency of the outcome of procurement processes. In the European Union, the 2014 Public Procurement Package continued to place the principle of transparency amongst its general principles and established rather detailed disclosure obligations, including the mandatory publication of a wider range of electronic notices (including for contractual modifications), a consolidation of the tenderers’ rights to access information about the procurement process, and higher standards for documentation and record-keeping by the contracting authorities.
More generally, the push for the development and adoption of open data standards for public procurement—in particular by the Open Contracting Partnership—has renewed efforts to bring procurement under the open government umbrella and to facilitate higher levels of transparency and accountability, in particular through big data analysis. In the European Union, the Commission highlighted the importance of procurement transparency in its 2017 Communication on ‘Making procurement work in and for Europe’, stressing that ‘The digital transformation, the growing wealth of data in general and the availability of open data standards offer opportunities to create better analytics for needs-driven policy-making and warning systems to signal and tackle corruption in public procurement’. The Commission thus established the goal of increasing transparency, integrity and better data as one of its six key strategic priorities. In particular, the Commission advocated the creation of national public contract registers by the Member States, providing transparency on awarded contracts and their amendments to enable dialogue with civil society and hold governments more accountable. (more…)
By Dr Pedro Telles, Senior Lecturer in Law (Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea University) and Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells, Reader in Economic Law (University of Bristol Law School).
Brexit, its research and its teaching are increasingly becoming a field of study on their own—see eg the illuminating contributions to the special issue edited by C Wallace & T Hervey on ‘Brexit and the Law School’ (2019) 53(2) Law Teacher 133-229, some of which build on the earlier series of SLS ‘Brexit and the Law School’ Seminars, one of which Albert had the pleasure to host at the University of Bristol Law School in July 2017. This seems rather natural, as it is hard to overstate the impact that Brexit is having on the work of academics active in all areas, but particularly for public and EU law scholars. In this post, we offer some personal reflections on the frustrations of carrying out Brexit-related research, some of which are related to Brexit and its unforeseeability, while others are derived from more general constraints on the ways legal research is published and assessed.
Researching a moving target …
The first issue that concerns us is the need to try to foresee what is likely to happen along the Brexit process (itself unknown and highly volatile), which puts legal scholars in a difficult bind because this is clearly a politics-driven phenomenon that curbs almost every imaginable rule or precedent remotely applicable to a comparable situation. We are not sure that legal scholars are in the best position to offer policy forecasts but producing research that is of any use to policy-makers requires such an effort. (more…)
In 2016, the EU adopted the Web Accessibility Directive to foster better access to the websites and mobile applications underpinning public services – in particular by people with disabilities, and especially persons with vision or hearing impairments. This Directive is meant to complement the European Accessibility Act and to implement the EU’s commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 9 UNCRPD requires the adoption of appropriate measures to ensure equal access to information and communication technologies, including the Internet, for persons with disabilities. Under the Web Accessibility Directive, this translates into an obligation for public sector bodies to ensure that their websites and apps comply with a 2014 EU standard adapted to the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) at level AA (currently WCAG 2.0).
The Web Accessibility Directive must be transposed into UK law by 23 September 2018 and will generate obligations for new websites from 2019, for pre-existing websites from 2020, and for all public sector apps from 2021. The UK Government is currently analysing the responses to a public consultation on the draft Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 (the Web Accessibility Regulations), and the Government Digital Service is developing a host of initiatives to roll-out accessibility policies throughout the public sector. This blog post explains that UK Universities and further education institutions are covered by the Web Accessibility Directive. They must be clearly placed under the scope of application of the future Web Accessibility Regulationsand be supported by the Government Digital Service and the Department for Education to ensure that their websites and apps comply with the relevant accessibility standards as soon as possible. This is not only legally mandated, but also essential to the public service mission of universities and other educational institutions. (more…)
Smart procurement aims to leverage public buying power in pursuit of social, environmental and innovation goals. Socially-orientated smart procurement has been a controversial issue under EU law. The extent to which the Court of Justice (ECJ) has supported or rather constrained its development has been intensely debated by academics and practitioners alike. After the slow development of a seemingly permissive approach, the ECJ case law reached an apparent turning point a decade ago in the often criticised judgments in Rüffert and Laval, which left a number of open questions.
More recently, Bundesdruckerei and RegioPost have furthered the ECJ case law on socially orientated smart procurement and aimed to clarify the limits within which Member States can use it to enforce labour standards. This case law opens up additional possibilities, but it also creates legal uncertainty concerning the interaction of the EU rules on the posting of workers, public procurement and fundamental internal market freedoms. These developments have been magnified by the reform of the EU public procurement rules in 2014.
This freshly-released book assesses the limits that the revised EU rules and the more recent ECJ case law impose on socially-orientated smart procurement and, more generally, critically reflects on potential future developments in this area of intersection of several strands of EU economic law. The book includes four contributions by Bristol scholars, including Prof Phil Syrpis‘ perspective from an EU constitutional law standpoint, Prof Tonia Novitz‘s reflections on collective bargaining and social dumping in posting and procurement, Ms Nina Boeger‘s thoughts on public procurement and business for value, and my own views on the competition and State aid implications of the use of procurement to enforce labour standards.
The collection of essays includes additional insights by colleagues at Oxford, Cambridge, Turin, Birmingham, Leicester, Warsaw, and the UNCITRAL, and is the result of a conference held at the University of Bristol Law School in May 2016. The papers have been constantly updated and include an assessment of the agreed revision of the Posted Workers Directive in the fall of 2017.
Eight months ago, by giving formal notice under Article 50 TEU, the United Kingdom formally started the process of leaving the European Union (so called Brexit). This has immersed the UK Government and EU Institutions in a two-year period of negotiations to disentangle the UK from EU law by the end of March 2019, and to devise a new legal framework for UK-EU trade afterwards. The UK will thereafter be adjusting its trading arrangements with the rest of the world, and the Government has recently stated its intention for the UK to remain a member of the World Trade Organisation Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).
In this context, public procurement regulation is broadly seen as an area where a UK ‘unshackled by EU law’ would be able to turn to a lighter-touch and more commercially-oriented regulatory regime, subject only to GPA constraints. There are indications that the UK would simultaneously attempt to create a particularly close relationship with the US, although recent changes in US international trade policy may pose some questions on that trade strategy. Overall, then, Brexit has created a scenario where UK public procurement law and policy may be significantly altered. In a paper* recently published in the Public Contract Law Journal with Dr Pedro Telles, I speculate on the possibility for Brexit to actually result in a significant reform of UK public procurement law (of which I remain sceptical). (more…)