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Our response to the Reform of Public Procurement Green Paper

Last December, the Cabinet Office published its long-awaited Green Paper setting out its proposed radical reforms to be made to the public procurement regime.

The government’s goal is to speed up and simplify the procurement processes, by cutting red tape and reducing bureaucracy to help unleash wider social benefits from public money spent on procurement.

These new changes will have an impact on organisations such as Solent Mind, who are commissioned by public authorities and the NHS to provide mental health services in the region.

Our experience of the current public procurement framework has enabled us to comment on the Government’s proposals for reform.

What is a Green Paper?

A Green Paper is a Government publication that details specific issues, and then points out possible courses of action in terms of policy and legislation. It contains no commitment to action, it is more a tool of stimulating discussion, but it is often the first step towards changing the law.

Key proposals in the Green Paper
  • Removing over 300 complex regulations, to create a single uniform rulebook
  • Overhauling inflexible and complex procedures, replacing them with three simple modern procedures. This will allow more freedom for suppliers and the public sector to work together and innovate
  • Allowing buyers to include wider social benefits of the supplier, such as economic, social and environmental factors, when assessing who to award a contract to, while also still considering value for money
  • Giving buyers the power to properly take account of a bidder’s past performance, allowing them to exclude suppliers who have failed to deliver in the past
  • A new unit to oversee public procurement with powers to improve commercial skills of public sector contractors
  • A single digital platform for registering contracts, improving transparency and making life significantly simpler for business


Solent Mind’s response to questions in the Green Paper

Do you agree with consolidating the current regulations into a single, uniform framework?

We welcome the Government’s intention to overhaul the existing framework for public procurement. Streamlining and simplifying the current complex sets of regulations provides a much-needed opportunity to improve transparency for all stakeholders, achieve better outcomes for citizens, customers, patients and service users, and better value for money, including social value. This is more important than ever as statutory and VCSE organisations in the mental health sector work together to meet growing needs in view of the projected long term psychological impact of the pandemic.

Evaluation and award criteria must be kept flexible to recognise and promote the wider value that is brought to local communities by organisations in the VCSE sector. The award of secure ongoing funding through a contract award can not only deliver the particular services specified, but so much more besides. It can offer a stable, sustainable basis on which the not for profit organisation can then thrive, maximise community assets to encourage volunteering and good citizenship, attract funding from other sources (including social enterprise and the private sector), and pursue economic, social and environmental objectives in the wider interests of their local communities.

Do you agree that the award of a contract should be based on the “most advantageous tender” rather than “most economically advantageous tender”?

The Government will be well aware of the financial impact of the pandemic on the VCSE sector, particularly through disruption to fund raising. It is of vital importance therefore that the wider benefits such organisations bring to their local communities are recognised in an overall evaluation matrix that embraces social value, before such organisations disappear. The emphasis in the Green Paper on not accepting simply the lowest priced bid for a public contract is supported, therefore. A broader view needs to be taken of all aspects of service proposals in assessing what constitutes best overall social value for money.

Do you agree with the proposed changes to the procurement procedures? 

We welcome the proposed new flexible procedure to encourage negotiation and innovation amongst the VCSE sector. Services where the primary motivation is, for example, health and social welfare support, the relief of poverty or distress, do not normally involve the same level of wide scale economic activity associated with, for example, infrastructure projects and professional services, nor do they attract the same participation of for-profit businesses. A more flexible, proportionate and lower cost way of arranging and procuring such services to reflect local needs is appropriate therefore.

Are there areas where our proposed reforms could go further to foster more effective innovation in procurement?

As a provider of health and social care services we welcome the complementary proposals published separately, in the Government’s recent White Paper on Health and Social Care, to remove healthcare services all together from the ambit of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. We believe this will assist in the reduction of bureaucracy and promote a more flexible and efficient arrangement of services in the interests of patients. The extension of this principle to social care would enable flexible and integrated arrangements overall that meet the health and social care needs of local communities.

Do you believe that the proposed Court reforms will deliver the required objective of a faster, cheaper and therefore more accessible review system?

Reform of the process for scrutiny and challenge of decisions on the award of contracts is also welcomed. The litigious nature of the current system inhibits sensible informal dialogue to explore, understand and resolve concerns, while the legal costs and liabilities that risk being incurred in a formal challenge are prohibitive, operating effectively as a barrier to smaller not for profit organisations in holding public authorities to account for their decisions.

Do you believe that a process of independent contracting authority review would be a useful addition to the review system?

A lighter touch framework for independent investigation and resolution of concerns, with a cap on the costs and liabilities to be incurred in a legal challenge (particularly for smaller and not for profit plaintiffs) would help enable overall transparency and appropriate public scrutiny. 

What are the next steps?

Consultation has now closed on the Green Paper. It will then take some months for the Government to digest the responses and to reflect them in proposed new legislation, which may then become law in late 2021 or during 2022.

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