26 February 2015
New public procurement regulations have come into force today (27 February).
The public procurement regulations were first laid before parliament on 5 February of this year. Just 22 days later they have come into force, as the government scrambles to push through legislation before the general election.
The EU directive on public procurement was passed in March 2014, and governments were given until April 2016 to pass the directive until law. Most countries are making use of the full time given.
However, the coalition has rushed to push through the most deregulatory interpretation of the directive possible. The regulations can be read in full here.
Despite the council for the EU stating that; “The new rules seek to ensure greater inclusion of common societal goals in the procurement process. These goals include environmental protection, social responsibility, innovation, combatting climate change, employment, public health and other social and environmental considerations.”, the UK’s regulations fail to promote any of these ideals.
Instead, the new regulations ensure that public procurement will continue to operate on a lowest tender basis, rather replacing it with a quality and ethics based approach. While it could have ensured that fair employment rights (including the Living Wage) were incorporated into public contracts, the government has chosen not to take up this opportunity.
Public procurement is worth £240bn, or 20 percent of the UK’s GDP. Progressive regulation would therefore have far reaching benefits to the economy and the workforce. However, in line with its general drive to debase workers’ rights, the UK government is pursuing as little forward-thinking regulation as possible.
Commenting on the regulations, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Every year billions of pounds of contracts from central government, local authorities and the NHS are up for grabs. But at the moment the only thing that firms who want to win public work need to do is make sure their bid is the cheapest.
“These new European regulations give individual governments much greater flexibility on the importance they can place on certain factors. By doing so they can ensure that any private company running a publicly funded service is a good employer, whose workers enjoy decent pay, safe working conditions and the opportunity to enhance their career prospects.
“Earlier this year, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to see firms using increased company profits to pay their staff the living wage. Here was the perfect pre-election opportunity for David Cameron to ensure that Britain gets a pay rise by increasing the number of workers earning at least £7.85 an hour.
“If the government was serious about giving a financial boost to UK families, ministers could also have used these new European rules to stop private care companies from paying illegal wages by failing to pay their home care workers for their travel time and from employing them all on zero-hours contracts.”