It has been nearly six months since the Cabinet Office issued its response to the Green Paper: Transforming public procurement consultation. Whilst the Government continues to prepare the Procurement Bill, it has issued an e-mail update on how it is developing the supporting implementation infrastructure for the new regime.
The Government Commercial Function (GCF) has set up its own web page which will host all of the key information that will be published in the coming weeks and months and announced a learning and development package to be rolled out to support those operating within the new regime. We can expect lots of written guidance to be issued to accompany and complement this formal training.
Central Digital Platform
It has been announced that the 'Central Digital Platform' that was outlined in Chapter 6 of the green paper will now be implemented by developing the existing Find a Tender service (FTS). New functionality will be added to support all the new notices that will need to be published and to introduce wider functions such as 'spend analytics'.
The Government has seemingly acknowledged the already 'fragmented' IT landscape and the significant challenge associated with throwing another system into the mix. It is conducting research into how the new FTS system will work, naming conventions and testing and understanding future requirements. Those interested in participating in the user research can sign up here.
The starting point for the UK is a decentralised and disjointed digital procurement environment. There are many different e-procurement systems hosted by various providers currently in operation with different system specifications and functionalities which cannot easily 'talk' to each other. The requirement envisaged in the green paper for all existing and future e-procurement systems to be configured against core system requirements to be able to link up with the central platform will be difficult for organisations that have not reached a sufficient level of digital sophistication and are unlikely to anytime soon due to costs and capacity constraints. The success of the new central digital platform will also be heavily reliant on system users ensuring that the data inputs are submitted in an accurate and timely way. When considering how to adapt FTS to incorporate the new functionalities, thought should be given to how the user experience can be made as easy as possible to mitigate against the risks of incorrect formatting, insufficient or flawed data and missed timescales.
It will also be remembered that in June 2021, the Cabinet Office published PPN 05/21 which indicated legislative requirements would be introduced in April 2022 to require all contracting authorities to have regard to the National Procurement Policy Statement (NPPS).
As many of us expected, it has been announced that this legislation is now likely to form part of the Procurement Bill instead and so will not come into force until at least 2023. The Government strongly recommends contracting authorities continue to have regard to the NPPS in the interim period and consider publishing pipelines. A Pipeline Notice which allows contracting authorities to publish pipelines of forthcoming procurement activity is already available on FTS. Guidance on publishing commercial pipelines is available here. It should be remembered that the requirement to publish pipelines set out in the NPPS strictly only applies to contracting authorities with an anticipated annual spend of £200 million or above and, from April 2023, will apply to contracting authorities with an anticipated annual spend of £100 million or above.