The UK Procurement Bill and the Public Interest

The UK Procurement Bill is being challenged for its "vague wording" by a spokesperson for a charity think tank, indicting it with disregarding social value

Since removing itself from the European Union and its procurement framework (e.g. the free movement of goods and services) the United Kingdom is positioning itself to establish a new procurement infrastructure.

Public procurement refers to the purchase by governments and state-owned enterprises of goods, services and works. According to the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), since “public procurement accounts for a substantial portion of the taxpayers’ money, governments are expected to carry it out efficiently and with high standards of conduct in order to ensure high quality of service delivery and safeguard the public interest.”

‘The Procurement Bill’ which is currently passing through the House of Lords on its way to being ratified has, according to Theo Clay, policy manager at charity think tank New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), problematic and “vague wording” which is liable to put profits before people. 

The UK government says that “one in every three pounds of public money, some £300bn a year, is spent on public procurement.”

Clay says that “Social value is not explicitly mentioned at all in the Procurement Bill at the moment, though it is in committee stage in the Lords and amendments are being discussed at the moment which may try and tackle this issue.”

The bill instead focuses on ‘value for money’ including a clause around ‘public benefit’, “but we believe” he says, “this vague wording will not be sufficient to encourage better working practices between government and charities which delivers actual social value.”

On this issue, a government spokesperson said: “The Procurement Bill will require public sector procurers to have regard to the priorities set out in the National Procurement Policy Statement, including in relation to social value. Our procurement reforms will bring in a simpler and more accessible system, which delivers positive social value for broader society.”

It must not be forgotten that the end-goal of procurement projects and infrastructures is ultimately the well-being of the public. Even where business is at the seeming-centre of procurement activity, the relationship between business and the people should always aim to be a symbiotic one.

The public interest has to be an important, if not the central issue in procurement, and businesses as well as governments must not lose sight of this ultimate objective if they are to succeed.

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