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…)
Until recently, public procurement law and practice have rarely been at the forefront of public and political debates. The UK government’s procurement reaction to the pandemic continues to generate scathing reports—such as the most recent one on PPE procurement by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee—and the emerging lessons show the need to strengthen this area of public governance. Against this background, it is timely to reflect on the government’s recent proposals to reform public procurement law in the Green Paper ‘Transforming Public Procurement’. (more…)
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…)
Scholars at the University of Bristol Law School have enjoyed a longstanding presence at the forefront of research in health law, and the undergraduate unit in Medical Law has become one of the most popular options on our degree programme. The School is home to leaders in fields that examine health law topics such as reproduction, mental health, public and global health, medical innovation, public procurement, and professional regulation. Our academics explore these issues from critical perspectives that include ethical, justice-based, historical, regulatory, economic, political and socio-legal approaches. As well as leading in research and education, we have close engagement with bodies responsible for advocacy, regulation, standard-setting, professional training, and providing ethical review and advice.
In reflection of this excellent concentration of expertise and experience, we have founded a new research Centre and are launching an exciting LLM Programme in Health, Law, and Society. Our aim with this innovative degree is to advance a course that looks at, but also reaches far beyond, questions concerning medicine and healthcare, to incorporate knowledge and understanding of how law and governance across all social and political sectors may impact health—for better or for worse. The breadth and depth of study on the course, reflecting directly our diverse range of teaching and research interests, is enhanced by the inclusion throughout the year of guest sessions led by scholars and specialists whose work and practice afford them unique insights and perspectives. (more…)
In what has been described as ‘nature’s own great climate experiment’, the 1992 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines provided scientists with data to refine their climate models. After the eruption, average global temperatures dropped temporarily as particles released into the stratosphere increased the Earth’s albedo. Solar Radiation Management (SRM) – or ‘reflecting sunlight to cool earth’ – developed notionally thereafter as a means of reducing global average temperatures resulting from increased greenhouse gases.
Pinatubo provided all kinds of data which helped increase the accuracy of climate models eventually predicting with relative certainty the temperature-cooling climatic impacts of SRM, whilst leaving relatively uncertain – or unknown – the extent of environmental impacts, such as those arising from changing patterns of rainfall. The current limitations of models in telling us about localised environmental uncertainties could be reduced if research into the effects of SRM took place outdoors, or in the field, so to speak. But that research would actually constitute deployment which itself would generate uncertain environmental effects. Given these significant constraints it is not possible to establish to what extent SRM technologies are effective or reliable and therefore it is imperative that a legitimate regulatory process is secured in which decisions about its research and deployment can be taken.
This new article* sets out how risky SRM field research might be regulated in the EU in such a way as to maximise legitimacy. It suggests that under particular conditions the EU could delegate to an independent agency powers to undertake what I call an incorporated risk assessment; an assessment in which science and politics, expertise and lay-knowledges are combined. Legitimacy would be maximised because the EU’s regulatory framework relating to the risks of SRM field research would be legal and also responsive, flexible, deliberative and inclusive. (more…)
By Alice Venn, PhD Candidate (University of Bristol Law School).*
The South Pacific is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change impacts. The images conjured up of sinking small islands surrounded by miles of rising oceans however do little justice to the vibrant cultures, diverse landscapes and close-knit communities I recently encountered there. As part of my PhD project exploring the legal protection available to climate vulnerable states and communities I was fortunate enough, with the support of the South West Doctoral Training Centre, to be awarded a three month visiting researcher position at the University of the South Pacific in Port Vila, Vanuatu. I spent my time there gathering data, primarily through a series of interviews with key stakeholders from national government, local law firms and NGOs, as well as with a number of regional organisations during a short trip to Fiji. (more…)