Public Procurement Bill - major or minor surgery as far as SMEs are concerned?

As the Procurement Bill passes the report stage and reaches the third reading in the House of Lords, Baroness Neville-Rolfe claims in an article for The Times that it “will slash through red tape, replacing 350 European Union regulations with one simple and flexible framework for the five million SMEs that could compete for public sector contracts”.

According to Baroness Neville-Rolfe it will also tackle late payment in the supply chain. I'm not convinced that the Bill amounts to quite the major surgery to the procurement regime as is claimed. For a start, the UK currently has 4 procurement regulations, not 350, and these will be condensed into 1 regime. In addition, Cabinet Office published a prompt payment code back in 2015.

However, as the Procurement Bill clears the report stage in the House of Lords and heads for the third reading on 13 December, the specific amendments referred to in Baroness Neville-Rolfe's article do still appear in the draft bill, namely (i) allowing smaller suppliers to provide alternative evidence where audited accounts are not available and (ii) to only put the required insurance cover in place at contract award rather than incurring the costs up front. These would provide some new assistance to SMEs in navigating the procurement process. It will be interesting to see if these amendments are retained as the bill continues its journey from the House of Lords through the House of Commons.


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