As mentioned in our analysis of the amended Procurement Bill (see here), the Report stage provided another opportunity to vote on amendments.
This stage has resulted in a number of changes which we briefly summarise below.
The Third Reading was held on 13 December 2022 where the Procurement Bill (as amended) was approved with one final tweak. It will now progress to the Commons where we expect it will progress at pace through the various stages.
There were many changes to the Procurement Bill during the Report stage (160 by our count). Nearly half of these were drafting changes to ensure internal consistency as a result of other amendments which have been made.
In terms of substantive changes from this stage, the following are of note:
- A more nuanced approach to regulating utilities with various concessions being made for private utilities which more closely reflects the flexibilities enjoyed under current Utilities Contracts Regulations 2016. This includes an amendment that would mean that a private utility would not have to wait until the expiry of a mandatory standstill period before directly awarding a contract.
- The National Procurement Policy Statement must now be reviewed against certain principles, providing some consistency and predictability in this area.
- A softening of some of the transparency-based obligations:
- An increase in contract value from £2million to £5million before certain obligations bite (such as setting KPIs, publishing the contract, publishing modification notices).
- The requirement to publish information about mitigating perceived conflicts of interest would apply only in respect of those the contracting authority considers are likely to arise.
- Further policy-driven changes such as requiring the removal of suppliers from the government supply chain for the following reasons: (a) modern slavery, (b) genocide, or (c) crimes against humanity.
Broadly, the changes are useful and aid clarity of understanding in a number of areas. In particular the nuanced approach to regulating private utilities will be a welcome development. There are a number of changes which contracting authorities and bidders will be keen to see the Commons put forward and we will set out our views on potential opportunities for improvement in a follow-up article (see here).
In terms of next steps, the first readings in the Commons have been held and the Committee stage will commence in the new year. There will be a Report stage and a Third Reading thereafter, following which the amendments will be considered and Royal Assent (hopefully) given.