Alastair Merrill – Scottish Procurement examines yesterday’s Parliamentary debate in his February blog

Posted in: General News

Director’s letter – February 2014

21/02/14

‘February fill-dykes’, my Gran used to say, and while in Scotland we have been spared the catastrophic flooding that has caused such devastation south of the border, it has been a wild and wet month.  The resilience of public bodies to deal with civil emergencies and natural disasters has been much in the news.  At times like these, procurement plays a vital function behind the scenes, assessing the resilience of supply chains, enabling the purchase of essential goods and materiel at extremely short notice, ensuring that emergency purchases are nonetheless legal, and protecting against the ever-present risk of fraud.

Weather apart, it has been another busy month. I was delighted at Scottish Procurement’s success at the recent Institute for Continuous Improvement in the Public Sector awards, winning the ‘step change with continuous improvement’ category and runners up in the ‘collaboration – working across boundaries’ category. And I was also very pleased to learn of Sally Collier’s appointment as the Chief Executive of the UK Government’s Crown Commercial Service (CCS). The successor to the Government Procurement Service (formerly Buying Solution), the CCS is one of our closest delivery partners in delivering collaborative procurement frameworks.  Those of you who heard Sally speak at last autumn’s Procurement Conference as the UK Government’s Deputy Chief Procurement Officer will be in no doubt that she is an excellent choice for this important role.

February also saw the European Procurement Directives formally adopted by the Council of Ministers, setting-off the two year clock for their implementation or transposition by Member States. The Directives contain many policy choices, and we intend to consult fully on the various options over the summer, to bring forward new regulations in 2015. This work will be co-ordinated with the development of secondary legislation and statutory guidance envisaged in the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Which brings me to the other big news for February, the completion of Stage 1 of the Procurement Reform Bill’s passage through Parliament after an interesting and high quality debate on Thursday. Stage 1 of a Bill tests the basic assumptions and intentions of the legislation from both policy and financial perspectives, and is the first big hurdle in the Parliamentary process.

As the leading committee for the Bill, the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee began the process with a call for evidence last October that produced over 61 written responses from various stakeholders.  The Committee took oral evidence throughout November and December and the Bill was also examined by other related Committees.  The Local Government and Regeneration Committee examined the implications of procurement reform for public services and community regeneration.  The Finance Committee scrutinised the Financial Memorandum, and the Law Reform Committee examined the Delegated Powers Memorandum respectively.

The ICI Committee brought all of this evidence together in a report published at the end of January, which was debated on Thursday in the Scottish Parliament.  The Committee supported the general principles of the Bill and the importance of establishing, through legislation, a national framework for Scotland to improve access to contracts and consistency and transparency in public procurement.  The Committee report made a number of more detailed comments, proposals, and requests for clarification, which will be addressed in the next stage of the legislative process.

Thursday’s debate saw unanimous agreement in the Scottish Parliament that the draft Bill should proceed to Stage 2, where it will be examined clause by clause, and amendments, additions or deletions are proposed, discussed and voted on. Passing Stage 1 is a major milestone for the Procurement Reform Bill.  The degree of political consensus around the importance of procurement reform and the overall direction of the reform agenda gives a really strong foundation on which to build.  Of course there will be differences of emphasis, and a testing of just what is possible or desirable to achieve through primary and/ or secondary legislation.  But we are an important step forward in putting the Scottish model of procurement into statute, and moving the Scottish public sector into the next phase of procurement reform.

Alastair Merrill

Director of Procurement and Commercial

Scottish Procurement