How should we use technology?

Technology plays an important role in reducing the time, cost and effort to procure (‘eProcurement') and councils need to have confidence that they have the right solutions in place.

What is the challenge?

Technology plays an important role in reducing the time, cost and effort to procure (‘eProcurement') and councils need to have confidence that they have the right solutions in place (see What can we do to improve the way we buy?).

Larger councils use electronic tools for sourcing (advertising opportunities, making procurement documents available, receiving pre-qualification questionnaires and tenders, running online electronic auctions etc.).

Electronic tools for tender evaluation and contract management are less widely used and electronic invoicing is not widespread at the present time. Electronic invoicing is an important development as it can both help reduce costs and drive compliance.

Smaller councils may have access to electronic sourcing tools (for example, those made available via regional portals like YORtender) but overall face a bigger challenge moving to fully electronic procurement.

Councils have made good use of electronic auctions but have found so-called ‘dynamic purchasing systems' as defined in the old EU rules too cumbersome to use. There are major improvements in PCR 2015. As outlined below, the use of dynamic purchasing systems is likely to increase as a consequence.

The PCR 2015 make electronic communications mandatory for sourcing (including electronic submission of pre-qualification questionnaires and tenders) from 18 October 2018 and smaller councils in particular need to gear up for this deadline.

There are earlier deadlines for some other new obligations. Most importantly, it is already a requirement that procurement documents are made available on the internet from the date of publication of the OJEU notice (or, where a PIN is used, the date on which the invitation to confirm interest is sent).

It will not become mandatory to use electronic tools for tender evaluation or contract management.  However, as part of a broader strategy for ‘end-to-end eProcurement', it has been agreed at EU level that a new European standard for core electronic invoices will be developed and councils will be required to accept invoices in this form.

This will not happen before 2018 (and the UK Government has discretion to postpone it for another year for councils).

How can we use the PCR 2015?

Open up markets and get better prices with ‘dynamic purchasing systems' 
In the old rules, the ‘dynamic purchasing system' (DPS, see electronic procurement) was too cumbersome to use and take up was minimal. The rules have been greatly simplified and councils are likely to find many new uses for the DPS.

Essentially, the DPS is an electronic database of pre-qualified suppliers that can be invited to tender for goods, works or services contracts.

It differs from a framework agreement in that new suppliers can be admitted at any time. It is not the same as an approved list because all suppliers on the system (or all suppliers in the relevant category) must be invited to tender every time.

The DPS is an efficient way of meeting EU advertising obligations while sustaining competition at the local level. Applications could include minor works, facilities management and agency staff.

An important feature of the DPS is that it enables new entrants to challenge dominant suppliers.

Modified versions of the DPS are already being used for social care placements. Social care now comes under the Light Touch Regime meaning that modified versions of the DPS can still be used as appropriate (see designing appropriate procedures for social care).  

Speed up procurement 
It is possible to reduce further the time taken to procure if electronic submission of tenders is allowed (shorter time limits are permitted in the open procedure and restricted procedure). 

Ensure specifications are ready for inclusion in the procurement documents
The legal obligation to make specifications available electronically as part of the procurement documents from the time the OJEU  notice is published (or, where a PIN is used, the invitation to confirm interest is sent) reflects good practice and is a good discipline on specifiers.

Gone are the days when specifications were still being written after the procurement process had started.