The upcoming Procurement Bill should be a boost to UK Industry
And help the UK’s domestic technology sector to reach its full potential.
As the world emerges from the difficulties of the last eighteen months, we in the UK are fortunate to live in a country with a dynamic, innovative and growing economy. Being in this position gives us opportunities: to invest, to pivot and to ensure that the UK is on the best footing to take advantage of the technological developments that are being born and bred up and down the country every day.
At UKCloud, we are confident and optimistic as we look to the future. We know that our company has a premier product that can help to turbocharge the UK’s economic performance. Our cloud hosting services have helped to ensure the smooth delivery of critical public services during the pandemic. We’re proud to have played our part, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with both government and industry to ensure that the UK’s recovery remains on track.
There are, however, real challenges ahead in the way that policymaking fosters and promotes innovation and support for SMEs. Despite so obviously supporting the UK tech sector, there is a frustrating lack of definition or clarity coming from government in terms of its priorities and direction in the tech space. With the Industrial Strategy scrapped, businesses like mine are now trying to navigate the maze of strategies, reports, taskforces, units and white papers that are being rolled out. On the one hand, it is encouraging to know that so much activity and thinking is taking place in Westminster and Whitehall. On the other, it is of some concern that there is a lack of coherence in these myriad workstreams.
A particularly exciting piece of work is the forthcoming Procurement Bill. As an independent trading nation, the UK is well-placed to ensure that its procurement policy is crafted to suit the needs of the country, and the proposed Bill gives the opportunity to do just that. At UKCloud, we think the Bill should include the following three key principles:
- Firstly, direct award procedures should be the exception, not the norm. Direct awards and single tender actions should only occur in the most limited of circumstances – otherwise, they will undermine market confidence, they cannot demonstrate good value for money for the taxpayer and are uncomfortably close to some of the buying behaviours that we now know to have happened during the height of the pandemic;
- Next, procurement decisions should take a whole-of-life approach to bid evaluation. Although this is motherhood and apple pie to most procurement professionals all too often it is overlooked when it comes to technology, where exit costs are often ignored or tenders are deliberately under-bid, only for costs to ramp up over time. Either way is a recipe for lock in;
- Finally, when buying the government should give proper weight to the ‘social value’ attached to a bid. This alone would help to make the raft of new policies cogent and aligned. That means considering not just the quality and price of the bid (which are of course critical), but also sovereignty, where jobs are invested, the bidder’s green credentials and how seriously the bidding party takes its social responsibilities. The National Procurement Policy Statement is a helpful step in that regard, and we are looking to see the Bill lift the minimum weighting of the total score for social value from the current 10% to at least 20%.
No one disputes that quality and price are of the upmost importance – but so is a open competitive market. Instead of turning to those suppliers that government already knows so well, departments should be looking to diversify their procurement pool in order to ensure security of supply, that the best price is being paid and that the domestic economy is being supported. When it comes to cloud technology, it doesn’t make any sense to place most of the nation’s critical data and the delivery of public services in the hands (or servers) of just a very few foreign suppliers.
There’s an enormous opportunity for the UK’s tech sector to play a leading role in the UK’s economic recovery. The government’s energy in supporting innovation and investment is crucial and welcome. But rather than providing yet more well-meaning strategies and plans, there are simple steps that could be taken to help ensure that the domestic tech sector can reach its full potential, so that our country can too. The proposals I suggest above – in particular the focus on properly recognising the contribution of a company’s social value, would help to underpin the government’s Levelling Up agenda: to get investment away from a handful of giants and towards supporting this country’s capable and vibrant tech industry.
Fortunately, the Procurement Bill presents an opportunity to take those first steps. We look forward to working with government to ensuring it does so.