Winckworth Sherwood welcomes new Public Sector Procurement Directive

The European Union has given the green light to its new Public Sector Procurement Directive. The changes will make it easier for charities, social enterprises and public sector mutuals to deliver public services, according to Winckworth Sherwood.

The directive, which was first announced in August 2013, was ratified on the 15 January 2014. The changes will, among other things, allow local authorities to award time-limited service contracts to mutuals or social enterprises without first having to advertise them in official channels. Under the Procurement Directive, only public service contracts for social and other specific services that exceed €750,000 (£620,000) will need to be advertised.

The new rules also:

  • allow local authorities to take into account the relevant skills and experience of individuals at award stage;
  • allow local authorities to break contracts into smaller lots to facilitate greater SME participation;
  • allow and actively encourage preliminary market consultation between buyers and suppliers to help shape better specifications, outcomes and shorter procurement times with more freedom;
  • allow improved rules permitting social and environmental aspects to be taken into account in letting contracts; and
  • encourage local authorities to adopt award criteria that take into account social and environmental issues plus innovation in contract delivery.

Simon Randall, a consultant at Winckworth Sherwood who provided informal advice to the UK government on these changes, said: ‘This new directive is enormously welcomed and is designed specifically to make it easier for groups of employees to form public sector mutual or co-operatives and successfully deliver public services.

‘Changes were needed as the previous directive made it extremely difficult for local authorities to award contracts to run local services to employee-owned mutuals as those mutuals could not compete effectively against the big service providers who have long track records and substantial funding.’

Joanna Bussell, a partner in Winckworth Sherwood’s local government projects team, added: ‘Local authorities wanting to award a contract to a group of employees found themselves under the old procurement rules having to award the contract to large service providers. We would expect to see a significant increase in the number of new public sector mutuals created to deliver public services.’

Member states must adopt the new rules within two years, but the UK government is planning the changes quickly as it pushes ahead with its plans to outsource more services.