Joaquim Nunes de Almeida , the Director of Public Procurement, Directorate for internal Markets and Services in the European Commission, was the final speaker at the Public Procurement Summit in London this week. As he is one of the people who has the greatest influence across Europe on public procurement policy, we listened with interest and furiously scribbled notes to bring you the highlights of his speech!
To start, he complimented the UK for its interest in public procurement, with the formation of Crown Commercial Services an indicator of this. The majority of his speech then was around the new single market strategy, which the Commission published two weeks ago. It contains much of interest in terms of public procurement (we will be reporting on this more extensively next week too).
The first goal of this is to go beyond just “setting and enforcing the rule book”. This is about making a real contribution to competitiveness and growth. The Commission wants simpler and more flexible procurement regulations, facilitating access for smaller firms (SMEs), and allowing countries to use public procurement to drive policy objectives. The new legal framework is a toolbox to allow contracting authorities to meet their goals. We need local policies to drive the EU economy rather than a focus on “infringements” and penalties.
So, the questions are how can we translate public procurement actions into benefits for business and citizens? How can the way we shape procurement be more conducive to innovation and efficiencies? How can we conduct procurement faster, involve small businesses, and ultimately drive growth?
The second major area is around more robust national and European procurement systems to remove barriers that prevent companies competing internationally. That includes moves to professionalise procurement further, such as a possible framework for procurement competence across the EU – that sounds interesting, we thought.
We need guidance and training, and it is essential to make use of the opportunities contained in the new directives. The EU will support States through European funds for the adoption of eProcurement, which can save contracting authorities 5% to 10%. The Commission would also like to see more national collaborative procurement organisations working together across borders (good luck with that one! That is a difficult objective given the difficulty of getting collaboration even at national level).
We need to remove barriers, ensure national public procurement systems work on the ground, he said. The UK is a good example of a well functioning procurement network, with coordination through CCS. But some countries have systemic problems – waste, corruption, bureaucracy, lack of skills. Those problems discourage suppliers from other countries from competing. If procurement functions better, there will be more opportunity for firms to compete internationally.
But it is not just about supporting countries with structural problems. Resolving marginal anomalies in particular major markets can have big efficiency benefits – e.g. making sure the use of frameworks (where the UK was the leader) was regulated, with limited timescales and more transparency, was down to the Commission’s influence.
The third role Nunes de Almeida discussed is around the Commission acting as a “catalyst of reform”, identifying pain points and the key actions for reform. A hands on approach is essential . The Commission will drive for the collection of better data from countries, and there will be strong encouragement to put together a national contract register. But developments must address the specific needs of the country, taking into account systemic and sectoral situations.
One interesting initiative will see the Commission offering support for large-scale infrastructure projects – a voluntary mechanism where countries can ask for Commission advice on the legality of procurement methods for big projects before the project (or procurement exercise) starts. That should boost the confidence of potential bidders (although the speed of that advice will be critical if this is to succeed, we feel).
Finally, whilst the focus of much of this is on above threshold contracts, improvements will have a knock on benefit for smaller contracts, which will be important for SMSs. Contracts Finder in the UK, which advertises smaller opportunities, is a “self-evident best practice”.
“We have a lot of work ahead. We consider the UK an essential partner in this challenge – let us join forces to support a more efficient and business friendly approach across Europe”.
It was a very good speech from Joaquim Nunes de Almeida, and although it was disappointing that there was not more time for questions, Spend Matters managed to ask a couple! We will come back next week and tell you about those, the answers we got, and the issues that lie behind the questions.