With Brexit front-of-mind, might it be an opportunity to further enhance what is currently a robust process to address some of the major construction challenges?
Brexit is at the forefront of the UK’s construction community mind as they seek to prepare their businesses for life outside the European Union and the single economy. These generational shifts require significant management input as business leaders try to predict the future the commercial, legal and regulatory frameworks that will govern their doing business in the UK and Europe.
In all the discussions evolving around our likely trade deal with Europe, such as the likely cost of the divorce, the status of Europeans working in the UK and the rising cost of imports as a result of our currency devaluation, we have had little public debate as to what may, and more interesting, could happen as a result of leaving.
Currently, we are bound by legislation arising from EU Directives that have been implemented into UK law. Our exit would thus have no immediate effect with all the provisions flowing down from the Directives still applying. The UK will still be bound by regulations that require equal treatment, non-discrimination, transparency and mutual recognition. The core ethos of promoting equal opportunities under a fair and transparent system has been key to drive better value in public procurement and eliminate corruption and local favouritism. The UK is well-known for its adherence to these principles; we are seen as a very ‘just’ place to do business.
We have a unique opportunity to further enhance what is currently a robust process to give local businesses a competing advantage and address some of the challenges around jobs, skills, productivity and regional disparity
Thus, on the face of it – why change anything? Well, some procurement specialist and clients could argue that following the regulations to the letter may not always lead to the right answer for UK plc. What we are dealing with here is the most effective use of public money to deliver on behalf of the British public and whilst we are not advocating a sea change in the way we undertake our procurement activities; we are suggesting this may be the right time to investigate opportunities to provide more flexibility in awarding of contracts. So whilst we would support transparency of opportunities; the strict methodology currently deployed during the procurement process can result in procurement teams being more concerned with following due process than to award to the ‘right’ tenderer.
Could we in future stipulate a degree of ‘local content’ as part of public procurement conditions, such as supporting local SMEs, investment in local manufacturing capability, or providing jobs and training? On a long-term project, for example, we could look to invest in local skills, and once you multiply this through the supply chain, this could have a significant impact on UK skills base and ultimately productivity. As the government noted in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper, public sector procurement can help drive innovation and competition in the supply chain, while ensuring best value for money for the taxpayer, we would like to see debate around these topics to help influence any future changes.
If there are to be changes, then these need to be finalised as soon as possible. The construction community has developed significant process and governance around our current regulations, thus any changes need to be well signposted to allow sufficient time for business change.
We have a unique opportunity to further enhance what is currently a robust process to give local businesses a competing advantage and address some of the challenges around jobs, skills, productivity and regional disparity - if we are prepared to embrace the necessary changes and stimulate local content.
Paul Dyson is a partner at consultancy HKA