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The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee makes recommendations around the implementation of the Procurement Act 2023.

02 February 2024
On 13 December 2023, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report titled "Competition in public procurement: Sixth Report of Session 2023-24" which highlights key concerns and makes recommendations around the implementation of the Procurement Act 2023. 

What is the role of the Public Accounts Committee? ("PAC")

The PAC is a government committee that examines the value for money of government projects, programs and service delivery. The committee studies public audits and invites key personnel such as ministers and permanent secretaries for questioning, and subsequently publishes a report of their findings to a government budget audit. Their overall role is to hold government officials to account for the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public spending.

The committee took evidence when Parliament was considering the Procurement Bill, which received Royal Assent on 26 October 2023 and has now become the Procurement Act 2023, and will replace the previous regime governing Public Procurement. With the introduction of the new Act, the committee took the opportunity to look at what can be learnt from the past decades of procurement, and outline key concerns and recommendations.

Key Concerns Raised

PAC have flagged a number of issues with the current procurement regime, and have made recommendations as to their improvement. Here, we outline some of the key issues and summarise the PAC recommendations.

Failure to capture data on procurement for evaluation purposes

The first main concern is that due to wide-ranging issues with the quality and completeness of data on public contracts, the government cannot effectively evaluate market trends to demonstrate that it is achieving the best value for money when undertaking public procurements. Departments are currently mandated to publish certain information on two databases: Find a Tender and Contracts Finder.

The Cabinet Office acknowledges that maintaining complete data records is essential in tracking key performance indicators in order to evaluate whether contracts are effectively delivering the goods and services.

The hope is that the Procurement Act 2023 will remedy issues surrounding data collection and allow the government to more effectively understand how the market is operating.

PAC have recommended that within three months of the Procurement Act coming into force, the Cabinet Office should define how it will use data to evaluate competitive trends and set out clear directions and guidance for contracting authorities on the following topics:

  • "the collection and publication of data relating to all contracts, including any modifications to the contracts
  • the requirements for timeliness of reporting information on the new contract database.
  • the collection of data to assess the outcomes achieved.
  • collecting data on supplier performance to inform future procurements."

A lack of consideration by the government of the time, money and resources required to provide the commercial capabilities and necessary guidance to successfully implement the Procurement Act 2023.

In order to ensure that the engagement around the Procurement Act 2023 delivers for the market and suppliers PAC have recommended that public authorities should conduct early engagement, without distorting the market by:

  • "carrying out discussion of problems facing the contracting authority, to help identify solutions, or give the market an opportunity to develop solutions to solve the problems
  • asking important questions to potential suppliers to allow contracting authorities to refine their requirements and create clearer specifications.
  • gaining a better understanding of what the market can supply, any contractual constraints and whether the budget, resourcing and timescales are achievable.
  • raising awareness of the potential procurement, that could encourage competition and increase the number of potential bidders."

The Cabinet Office have devised a suite of learning products for the market on the new Procurement Act. These include:

Knowledge drops: a range of short broadcast presentations providing a high-level overview of the changes to the procurement regulations. These are aimed at those needing general level of awareness of the new rules as well as Suppliers including Small Medium Enterprises. The first of these have now been launched by the Cabinet Office and can be accessed here.

Self-guided e-learning: these are expected to comprise 10 x 1 hour modules, for all commercial staff in Contracting Authorities to gain a grounding of knowledge and understanding of each element of the new regime, and culminating in the award of a Practitioner Certificate.

Deep dive webinars: a three-day intensive course for a smaller group who will have completed the e-learning modules. It will comprise interactive virtual webinars in small cohorts which will allow learners to engage with subject matter experts.

A lack of guidance around risks that Framework Agreement pose to competition

The third key issue highlighted by the PAC is around Framework Agreements and the risk they can pose to effective market competition. PAC commented that this risk is compounded by the fact the Crown Commercial Service lacks data on the number of direct awards made without re-opening a full competitive process.

The PAC committee have recommended that the Cabinet Office should issue guidance within six month to provide central government buyers information on: 

  • The project delivery model assessment to be carried out by government buyers to inform recommendations on whether a department should or should not use a framework.
  • The effective management processes for frameworks.
  • The collection of appropriate data to assess whether the outcomes of the framework have been achieved.

To read the full report from the PAC which provides further insights and recommendations, please download a copy here.

PAC have highlighted key issues and produced important recommendations on how to ensure the new Procurement regime is as effective as possible, and it is important the market is aware of these recommendations. 

As the Procurement Act 2023 replaces the old regime, we at DWF are on hand to assist you in navigating the new rules and the commercial reality in which you are procuring goods, works and services. DWF are running a series of training sessions on all aspects of the Procurement Act 2023, so please do keep an eye on our website where we will post upcoming training sessions. Please contact our specialist procurement team if you would like any support or advice. 

Further Reading