Some further reflections on transparency in the Procurement Bill

Thanks to a comment on my previous post about the Procurement Bill and some discussions last Friday at Nottingham, I think it is worth making some further reflections on transparency as it stands in the Procurement Bill.

My main criticism is that for all the lofty ambitions from the Green Paper the actual text of the Bill does not match said ambitions. The push back against my view is along the lines the changes introduced increase the compliance obligations without any real benefit.

It is true that at face value the Bill does increase compliance obligations for contracting authorities in terms of the transparency-related notices they have to publish and make available. But herein lies the rub of it for two different reasons.

First, because there are no obvious consequences for the lack of compliance with these obligations. In fact, we already have enough evidence to know ex-post notice obligations are routinely not complied with without penalty. I expect this to remain the case, hence my view that there will not be many transparency gains in the new procurement regime.

Second, the option for more manual (and menial) notices that contracting authorities have to do themselves shows the lack of foresight and real reform in the Bill. There is no reason why making information such as award, contract or contract changes cannot be automated away instead of relying on manual operations. In fact, procurement systems such as those of Ukraine or Paraguay show us what can be done in this regard. That information should be captured automatically by the electronic platforms used by contracting authorities and then pushed to the appropriate publication service as needed.

That suggestion is not rocket science but does require redesigning the procurement workflow to  really have a cradle to grave electronic system instead of a paper system reliant on notices that is run digitally. Since there was no paradigm shift, the Procurement Bill simply doubled down on how things were done before. But we are in 2023, not 2003.

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