The European Commission is consulting on widespread changes to the EU procurement rules. The reason for this is that it is generally felt the current public procurement regime can at times be inflexible, complex and an administrative burden. In a bid to combat these problems, the European Commission has published the Green Paper, How to buy, what to buy: revising the EU public procurement rules. This discusses potential changes to the existing public procurement regime, and invites public bodies to comment on the proposals by 18 April.  

In revamping the public procurement rules, the European Commission is aiming to:  

  • increase cross-border contracting;
  • improve access to public procurements for small and medium sized enterprises; and
  • achieve the environmental and social policy objectives of the EU (which are promoting innovation, reducing carbon emissions and fostering a competitive and high-employment economy that delivers social and territorial cohesion across Europe).

The Green Paper sets out the European Commission’s thoughts and proposals on numerous aspects of the existing public procurement scheme, and poses 47 separate questions within which procurement managers and commissioners may frame their responses. Anyone interested in contributing should read and consider the whole Green Paper, as there are numerous aspects which could affect the NHS. However, some particular areas to which NHS bodies may wish to contribute are:  

  • bringing Part B services rules into line with those for Part A services – this has significant implications for the commissioning of clinical services;
  • the definition of public procurers (as the ongoing reforms in the NHS raise questions regarding which bodies would be covered by the current definition);
  • clarification on what contract changes are permissible post award;
  • greater flexibility in the timing and content of the selection and award phases;
  • the possibility of a lighter procedural framework for local and regional contracting authorities; and
  • the extent to which public procurement rules should apply to contracts concluded between public authorities.

Effective public procurement is a core part of the strategy for NHS bodies to save money. This Green Paper provides an excellent opportunity for NHS procurement managers and commissioners to have their say on how the revised scheme is shaped. Although it will take time before any proposed changes become law it is highly likely that public policy in NHS procurement will closely follow the direction of travel from within Europe.