The recently published Transforming Public Procurement Programme - October Update sets out the Government's agenda for public procurement reform over the coming months, reasserts the key principles underlying proposed reforms, and provides an update on the Procurement Bill's likely timeline for coming into force.
The Cabinet Office starts the update by stating the government's policy priorities that underlay their work to reform public procurement: delivering economic growth and recovery from COVID-19, levelling up and tackling climate change. It is hoped that new mechanisms for the award of contracts will ensure value to society takes precedence, and that a more transparent procurement regime will make it easier for firms to bid for government work. Essentially, this part of the update reiterates the principles set out in the Green Paper published in December 2020.
Along with this statement of ambition, the update also acknowledges feedback received from 600 respondents to the Green Paper. Whilst it is stated that the key proposals are "broadly welcomed", the update acknowledges that there are plans to take on board critiques and adjust the approach in some (not yet specified) areas. A summary of responses received and details of what the Government intends to do, in light of the consultation exercise, is due to be published within the coming weeks.
There are also plans for learning and development offerings that will support the introduction of the new public procurement regime, but the nature of this is subject to funding decisions.
The Cabinet Office states that the focus is now on preparing legislation for Parliament, and turning these policy intentions into a Bill. Given that it is anticipated that the Procurement Bill will only be introduced when Parliamentary time allows, and the passage of the Bill through Parliament will likely take several months, it is not expected to come into force before 2023. Interestingly, the update stated that Wales would join the Bill, Northern Ireland would be "closely involved" and that the UK Government will work with the Scottish Government to "support alignment with their regime" hinting at differing approaches within the UK.
Overall, the update does not provide any significant, substantive details on the Government's public procurement reform plans. However, it does reassert the principles underlying the reform and previously set out in the Green Paper. Additionally, the update does provide some increased clarity in relation to the timescale of when we can expect the Procurement Bill to come into force, even if a specific date cannot yet be provided.