Thoughts on Procurement Policy Note – Supporting Apprenticeships and Skills Through Public Procurement

I mentioned yesterday a plan by the UK Government for introducing social considerations under the guise of supporting apprenticeships through mandatory apprenticeship programmes in some larger contracts.

The actual policy note is out (Action Note 14/15 27 August 2015) and applies to all contracts over £10M lasting for longer than 12 months and tendered by Central Government departments irrespective of their object. I was under the impression the policy would cover only works contracts, but that is not the case.

My view on social considerations is probably well known by regular readers: I am not a huge fan and remain sceptical particularly due to the lack of interest by their promoters to discuss the downsides - never a good sign.

Having said that, as far as social considerations go, this policy is reasonably sensible. It only covers large(ish) contracts and needs to be tied to the contract’s subject matter. In my view, this constitutes an improvement over similar policies which are bolted on as contract performance clauses, since at least they will have to be assessed and subject to analysis before award. Looking at the policy note the care and attention in ensuring a link to the contract’s subject matter is obvious (paragraphs 9 and 10).

The structure adopted by Central Government appears to constitute a secondary object attached to the main contract. Something akin to a mixed contract (without really being a mixed contract). Maybe a mixed contract approach would have been preferable.

Implementing this policy implies for contracting authorities even more work before the tender launch as they are now expected to “consult the market” to know what apprenticeship levels are reasonable on that type of contracts. As if most authorities did so most of the time for the mail contract object anyway...

At the end of the day however, we are still talking about more complexity and someone will end pay up for the extra apprenticeship services being delivered. There are no free lunches.