Artificial intelligence (AI) has been permeating all aspects of our lives for a while. AI underpins several of the digital services we use and, perhaps less known to most of us, an increasing number of public services. However, only recently and on the back of questionable claims about existential AI threats, has AI regulation started to grab mainstream headlines, permeate public discourse, and quickly rise to the top of the political agenda. Before this recent flurry of AI regulation discourse, in late March 2023, the UK Government published a much-awaited white paper setting out its ‘pro-innovation approach to AI regulation’ (the AI White Paper). Much has happened in the short period since the AI White Paper was published, including the launch of a £100m Foundation Model Taskforce, the appointment of its Chair, and the announcement that, in a bid to lead the global discussion on AI guardrails, the UK will convene a global AI safety summit. (more…)
by Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Law and Innovation (University of Bristol Law School).
On 29 March 2023, the UK Government published its much awaited policy paper ‘AI regulation: a pro-innovation approach’ (the ‘AI White Paper’). The AI White Paper made it clear that Government does not intend to create new legislation to regulate artificial intelligence (‘AI’), or a new AI regulator. AI regulation is to be left to existing regulators based on ‘five general principles to guide and inform the responsible development and use of AI in all sectors of the economy’, including accountability, transparency, fairness, safety, and contestability. (more…)
by Professor Albert Sanchez-Graells, University of Bristol Law School.
Approximately a third of public sector spending goes to procure third-party goods, services, and works. Procurement rules and policies seek to ensure that contract awards are free from corruption, conflicts of interest or anticompetitive practices, and that these vast sums of public funds generate value for money and support social, environmental, and innovative practices. There is always room for improvement, though. The adoption of digital technologies is seen as a strategic catalyst for procurement reform, to increase the effectiveness of procurement regulation. Digitalisation could reduce the administrative burden through automation, generate data insights to inform policies and boost efficiency in public spending, and serve as a living lab for GovTech experimentation.
However, the transformative potential presumed in digital technologies generates hype and excessive expectations on the true size and nature of the achievable improvements. It also tends to overshadow the required groundwork and preparatory investment. New digital governance risks and requirements are not always recognised or understood. The growing public sector digital capability gap raises further obstacles. Heightened expectations and a minimisation of the challenges can get on the way of successful reform. In ongoing research funded by the British Academy, I apply an innovative technology-centred methodology to assess the governance opportunities and challenges for procurement digitalisation. This blog post provides a summary of the main findings so far. I will also be discussing them with a stellar panel on 15 December 2022 (details and registration). (more…)
By Professor Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Law and Innovation (University of Bristol Law School)
Preventing, detecting, and sanctioning corruption in public procurement is one of the main goals of all systems of regulation applicable to the expenditure of public funds via contract (see eg Williams-Elegbe, 2012). Despite constant and regularly renewed efforts to fight procurement corruption at an international (such as the UN Convention against Corruption, or the 2016 OECD’s Preventing Corruption in Public Procurement report) and domestic level (see eg the UK’s 2020 ‘Local government procurement: fraud and corruption risk review’), corruption remains a pervasive problem in any given jurisdiction. Of course, there are different forms and degrees of corruption infiltration in different procurement systems but – if any evidence was needed that no system is corruption-free – pandemic-related procurement served as a clear reminder that this is the case (see eg Transparency International, 2021; as well as Good Law Project v Cabinet Office  EWHC 1569 (TCC)). It should then not be surprising that the possibility that artificial intelligence (AI) could ‘change the rules of the game’ (eg Santiso, 2019) and bring procurement corruption to an end is receiving significant attention. In a recent paper*, I critically assess the contribution that AI can make to anti-corruption efforts in the public procurement context and find that, while it could make a positive incremental contribution, it will not transform this area of regulation and, in any case, AI’s potential is significantly constrained by existing data architectures and due process requirements. (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…)
By Prof Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law (University of Bristol Law School).
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…)