A reader writes with a view on the realities of dealing with EU labour rules

state of play

I refer to the article headed “Keep it local” (page 46, 18 January). The article does not actually impart any pragmatic wisdom or advice to help those involved in public procurement who want to help the local economy.

I have worked with the public procurement regime for many years and am aware that many practitioners are looking for the holy grail of how to favour local contractors and suppliers without falling foul of the EU rules. The answer is simple – you can’t.

The article says that “public sector clients cannot require that apprenticeships and other initiatives are undertaken in their own community because under EU regulations this would create an unfair advantage for local contractors”. And that is the beginning and end of it.

Local contractors cannot be favoured in the selection process (for instance, when deciding who to invite to tender) or in the award process (who will be awarded
the contract).

There may be all manner of social and environmental considerations, which will almost invariably be more easily met by a local contractor or which will almost invariably benefit local employment - but it can’t be guaranteed.

The “wellbeing” provisions of the Social Value Act come into force on 31 January 2013 and require many public bodies to consider how every procurement exercise can improve the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of their particular area. The act does not alter the overriding requirement of the EU regulation that local contractors and suppliers cannot be favoured simply because they are local.

Such things as requiring a contractor to have a training programme for new entrants to the industry will almost always help the local community but not inevitably (the trainees could come from anywhere within the EU).

Let’s stop pretending that “local” can be specifically favoured in public procurement. We have to work within the rules and accept reality.

John H. Ryding, executive procurement and projects manager, West Lancashire council