Good Practice
Pedro Telles Public Procurement Podcasts – Abby Semple on Procurement’s Future

In another of the Public Procurement Podcasts series, Dr Pedro Telles talks to Abby Semple, a postgraduate student, public procurement lawyer, consultant and author of the recommended book “A Practical Guide To Public Procurement”. That was the first book published covering the new 2014 EU Procurement Directives (and was reviewed by us here). Semple is also an expert on sustainability in the procurement context. In the interview, number 11 in the series of podcasts, she and Telles talk about a number of issues, generally around the future of public procurement, and how it might look in 2025.

They start by debating whether we will see more or fewer public contacts advertised. Semple thinks that whilst the “above EU threshold” (larger contracts) number will stay about the same, where below threshold contracts are concerned, there will be more advertising and it will be targeted more widely. That will in part be because of the growth of online portals and electronic marketplaces.

She believes we will see “a lot more contracts being advertised on national websites at national level and a lot more potential at least for cross-border competition via those national portals as they sort of gear up. And I don’t know whether they’ll all be following similar standards but at least they’ll become more intelligible, more accessible to bidders outside of the Member States where they’re being advertised”.

It is an interesting view; but I’m not sure I would agree. Perhaps my view of human nature is more cynical than hers, but I don’t believe most contracting authorities or budget holders want to advertise their requirements more widely, as that just causes more work and makes it harder to award work to local or favoured suppliers – so they may find ways to avoid that advertising!

She then talks about how the profile of what the public sector will buy might change, and which types of goods and services are likely to attract cross-border interest. She points out (accurately) that for many services such as social care, you “need to have a strong presence on the ground” – it is not just a question of access to the contract opportunities. However, digital and data services, which will be growing categories, should be very open to cross-border interest and delivery.

Semple then gets into the topic of life-cycle costing, which is covered in the new Directives with some quite detailed rules. She does believe that there is a desire to use it and consider for instance environmental factors in tenders, but she is not sure this has been really thought through in terms of the detailed directives; “are people actually going to use life-cycle costing or are they going to be scared of it by the fact that there are more detailed rules around it and that there is a potential for an operator to challenge the use of life-cycle costing if they don’t like the outcome”.

The interview also covers very interesting questions around legal challenges to procurement processes and decisions. There’s a difference in approach explored here; is it better to have a challenge and remedy process that is onerous, so both parties work very hard to avoid it – or to have a simpler remedy process which might almost “encourage” challenges – but also enables them to be resolved more easily? That’s not an issue we’ve really considered, but the difference between the UK and Ireland (in the former camp) and Sweden (in the latter) is an area of interest for Semple.

There is a lot more in the interview and podcast, including a discussion around innovation and the role of a “procurement Ombudsman”, and it is recommended reading / listening as ever. And don’t forget you can buy Semple’s book here; although it is a bit pricy, it should be a standard reference work for every public procurement team, certainly in the UK and Ireland (and indeed has much of interest to anyone interested in the topic.)