Ventilatorgate: What could the Government have done differently

Albert has once more looked into the sorrow state of the ventilator procurement process and coined an excellent name for the whole saga: #ventilatorgate. I think it is a perfect epitaph for the situation.

On his most recent entry he looked into the responses of the Government to the FT article and how it ties up with the current EU procurement rules. We do agree a lot, but not in everything, particularly on the extreme urgency requirement of Regulation 32(2)(c), but let's set that aside for a moment and focus instead on what the Government could have done regarding the development of completely new machines as requested from Dyson and BlueSky.

There is no doubt that this part of the strategy - directly awarding contracts that do not solve an immediate need - is illegal as it breaches the urgency requirement mentioned above. That doesn't mean  the Government had no recourse on how to do develop these machines.
Albert suggested the accelerated open and restricted procedure, which allow the timescales for submissions to be shortened. That is one option but it does require fairly well established specifications from the start and, in this context, it might problematic.

There are three other tools in the toolkit that could have been used: the competitive procedure with negotiation, competitive dialogue and innovation partnership. All three have the downside of a 30 day tender/participation submission period from the notice but from then onwards they offer the flexibility the Government needs.

Whereas competitive procedure with negotiation and competitive dialogue are known quantities and, by practice, slow, the innovation partnership is fairly open in how it can be constructed thus allowing a lot of flexibility during the procedure to tailor it to the needs at hand. For example, it could be designed to include designers and manufacturers and shaped in a way to ensure that there would be production capacity available for the chosen designs.

So, yes, the start would be slower but legal and certainly less messy than the Government's approach.

That it wasn't used and instead the Government fumbled straight into awarding contracts directly means to me it was not acting as a reasonably diligent contracting authority between January and mid-March and instead took the shortcut of throwing out the procurement rulebook instead of using the options it offers.