New "light-touch" rules to be introduced for health, social and similar services provide an opportunity to reform procurement for the benefit of charities and social enterprises, according to Navca, the umbrella body for local infrastructure charities.
The European Union is expected soon to rubber-stamp new rules governing procurement, which the Cabinet Office aims to transpose into UK law by mid-2014.
The Cabinet Office is running a pre-consultation on some issues related to the new rules, and is expected to launch a full consultation next year.
Existing rules say that some types of contract, including those in social and health services, must go out to tender across the EU if their value exceeds €200,000.
The new rules will raise the threshold to €750,000.
Rachel Rhodes, policy officer at Navca, said the consultation was "an opportunity for the government to start again with a blank piece of paper" and to design a procurement regime for services below the threshold that worked better for beneficiaries. She said that above the threshold there would also be more freedom for rules to be set at a national level.
"Under the old rules, the commissioner had to decide whether a contract was of interest across the EU, and they were very risk-averse," she said. "The new system takes it out of the commissioners’ hands and specifies which types of contracts are not subject to EU procurement rules."
Rhodes said the government would have to design a new set of procurement rules for those contracts. She said Navca wanted to see a "permissive" regime that would reduce risk-averse behaviour and encourage a "change of culture" among commissioners.
Oli Henman, EU and international campaigns manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said that the increase in the threshold was a positive step for third sector organisations, but it also raised the threshold for the social value act, which requires commissioners to have regard to the social value an organisation creates when it bids for a contract.
He said the EU was introducing its own rules to clarify the fact that commissioners could consider social value in contracts, but these rules had not yet been finalised.