Listen to the voluntary sector over new Procurement Bill, government urged

The government has been urged to work with the voluntary sector as it looks to introduce legislation aimed at making it easier for charities to win public sector contracts. 

The government announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday that it intended to publish a new Procurement Bill that would simplify public sector procurement and make it easier for voluntary sector organisations to win contracts. 

The government said in a briefing document published alongside the speech that it hoped its proposals would make public procurement more accessible for voluntary, charitable and social enterprises to compete for and win public contracts.

It said it planned to make “UK procurement rules more modern, flexible, innovative and diverse, by allowing the government to consider wider social value when picking suppliers”. Its aims include embedding transparency throughout the commercial lifecycle, making procurement rules more flexible, and the consolidation of more than 350 regulations governing public procurement into a single, uniform framework.

Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England, told the House of Lords Public Services Committee in February that the rules regulating a company “supplying crockery to Parliament” should not be equivalent to the “issues and procedures for procuring public services to people in Stoke”.

Commenting on the new bill today, Evans said it was disappointing that what was outlined in the speech did not appear to have been altered in response to the hundreds of submissions made by charities to the government’s Procurement Green Paper consultation. 

“Procurement reform is an important opportunity to learn from the damage done when human services are traded like commercial products, and to chart a different path towards more collaborative, flexible partnership approaches in service commissioning. 

“We urge government to listen to the organisations who provide public services, and who work with the communities who would benefit so much from a change in commissioning culture,” she said. 

Paul Streets, chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, said that commissioning and procurement had long presented huge challenges right across the system, not least for small and local charities. 

“By placing ‘purpose’ at the heart of any commissioning and procurement process, government could have the chance to radically improve the services that are available to people in communities,” he said. 

“The bill must also build on the impressive partnership and flexible approach we have seen between local authorities and charities during Covid-19 – partners with a shared mission and objectives, not contractors to be performance-managed like construction contracts.”

Maddy Desforges, chief executive of the local infrastructure membership body Navca, said: “The current rules allow for a flexible and proportionate approach to procurement, but they are often implemented in a risk-averse and over-complex way which doesn't recognise or make sure of that wider benefit.”

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