Fisking the UK Government press release on the new procurement rules

Last week the Cabinet Office published a press release entitled '350 rules to be ditched, creating a simpler, more flexible and transparent procurement' which is so outlandish in its claims that it warrants a proper fisking almost line by line:


No evidence of these '350 EU laws' is provided so one must assume it is referring to the total number of regs from previous regulations that have been replaced and not 350 individual pieces of legislation. Because if those exist I definitely am missing out on some 340 or so.


As I explained on my reply to the public consultation last year, those three objectives (single, simple and flexible) tend to be orthogonal to one another. A single system tends to increase complexity (although that can be mitigated) and a simple system is by default unflexible. Flexibility in particular breeds complexity on daily basis by replacing standardisation with one off approaches. The Highway Code is allows for simplicity in driving because it is standardised across the land, can you imagine the effect if we had specific traffic rules for each county for example? That extra flexibility will increase compliance costs and risk as well. And where there is risk there is a margin and higher transaction costs.

Plus, I struggle to see simplicity even at the level of the rules as the Procurement Bill runs over 120 pages when the schedules are included, which truth be told might as well have gone in the main body of the Bill itself.


What makes life easy for business is predictable and consistent rules, not different approaches to the same thing that vary from contracting authority to contracting authority. This will not result in more SMEs participating in procurement as most of the potential barriers to their participation (transaction and opportunity costs remain present. Reasonable timeframes for participation (and not really short timescales) and automating away the check of exclusion grounds without the need for them to provide individual documentation to prove their eligibility in every single contract.

I also take aim at the proposition the reforms will slash costs since that is not a given, nor is it explained where those costs will actually be slashed from.

Honestly I struggle to see how the new rules do away with bureaucratic rules without taking into account the difficulties they themselves generate. From where I'm standing the new rules are both more complicated and time-consuming for firms to navigate for the reasons mentioned earlier.

How will an atomised system make life easier for SMEs is beyond me.


Now this might work but, as ever, the devil is on the details. What 'credentials' will it retain and who's responsible for obtaining them and ensuring they're up-to-date? Will it be automated or simply a centralised system dependent on manual inputs?


Ah, yes procurement pipelines. One obvious question: who will commit resources to prepare a bid that may or may not appear at all or in a completely different timeframe from that on the published pipeline? Certain cost for uncertain opportunity anyone? Especially SMEs?

Procurement pipelines are indeed great to coordinate responses, but I'm not sure it is of the kind the Government would like (collusion).

I have nothing against prompt payment mechanisms (but a lot to say about direct payments to subcontractors), but struggle to see how that has any bearing on 'reducing the reliance on the same group of large companies.' You know what would reduce the reliance on those companies? Either doing more in house or having more, smaller and simpler contracts. But those cost more money to run and then to manage. Cheaper and easier to just have a main contractor to deal with.