The main law on public procurement in the UK is set out in the Public Contracts Regulations of 2006.
Contracts with public bodies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Information must be disclosed to anyone who asks for it, unless there is an exemption under law.
The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) which is responsible for procurement policy in the UK provides a full guide to the legal framework.
Types of public procurement
Four award procedures are provided for in the 2006 Public Contracts Regulations:
- open procedure - following an advertisement in the Official Journal of the EU (OJ), any interested party may submit a tender;
- restricted procedure - a selection is made from those who respond to the advertisement and only they can submit a tender;
- competitive dialogue procedure - following an OJ Contract Notice and selection process, the authority enters into dialogue with potential bidders to develop one or more solutions for its requirements. Based on this, selected bidders are invited to tender;
- negotiated procedure - a purchaser may select one or more potential bidders with whom it negotiates contract terms. One example is when, due to technical or artistic reasons or to exclusive rights, the contract can only be carried out by a specific bidder.
The procurement process to be followed depends on the value of the work to be carried out. Thresholds for utility projects are also different from those for public bodies. Details of the current procurement thresholds can be found on the website of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC).
Tendering procedure: step-by-step guide
There is normally a strict process to follow when bidding for public sector contracts. Once through the pre-qualification stage, an invitation to tender or contract notice is sent out. Contracts are awarded on the basis of value for money, with lifetime costs and maintenance arrangements taken into account.
Further information on tendering for public procurements is available on Business Link.
The Business Link website also provides a guide to businesses interested in selling to Government.
Types of public contracts
There are various forms of public contracts, e.g. works contracts (building and civil engineering); supply contracts and service contracts. The tendering process for these will vary due to value of these contracts.
National public procurement authorities
Individual government departments are responsible for public contracts, while overall policy falls under the Office of Government Commerce (OGC).
Businesses and the general public can use Contracts Finder - a free new service on Business Link - to find opportunities to supply goods and services to government.
Contracts Finder is part of a series of government measures aimed at making it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to find and apply for public sector contracts. It will become the main source of government opportunities worth more than £10,000.
European public procurement tools include eNotices, a web-based tool which simplifies and speeds up preparation and publication of tender notices. An eSenders service allows approved organisations to submit notices directly as XML files. Some public sector bodies also advertise lower value contracts here.
The Official Journal S is available exclusively in electronic format and is accessible from the Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) website, or on CD-ROM (provided twice weekly by subscription). Contracts above the EU threshold must be advertised in the 'S' series.