We are living through unprecedented times which are affecting every part of society and the economy. But what could the COVID-19 crisis mean more specifically for those of us working in the field of public procurement and proposal writing? The early indications are that there could be both upsides and downsides as Government’s around the world try and make sense of the situation.
Public agencies are clearly facing disruption as their workforces adjust to homeworking restrictions, whilst policy priorities are rapidly changing around them. This is likely to mean that some expected tenders could be cancelled or postponed in the short term or have more fluid response deadlines. Face-to-face market engagement events will inevitably be cancelled or moved on-line. At the same time, other urgent procurements could be pushed through more quickly.
The National Treasury in South Africa has issued an instruction for local municipalities to speed up the procurement of goods that would help prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19. The European Commission is organising a joint procurement of ventilators and protective medical equipment, leveraging the bloc’s collective buying power. Closer to home, Northamptonshire County Council, has issued an urgent tender to source a temporary increase to its care home capacity in direct response to the coronavirus crisis. More tenders like this could be rapidly forthcoming.
Let’s not forget that a key means for Governments to pump prime their economies is to push out more spend through public contracts, not just in specific relation to the crisis, but for all goods and services more broadly. Encouragingly, there are still over 2,000 active tender competitions still open for bids right now in the UK. But this process still needs to be managed with care.
In Portugal, for example, the Government introduced emergency legislation last week to relax procurement rules for smaller goods and services contracts up to €20,000 (i.e. below formal EU Procurement Rule thresholds). The new measures effectively allow for procurements to be made with greater urgency, but with lighter touch purchasing compliance. At one level that may sound sensible, in filling public orders for goods and services quickly. The downside, however, is that this approach dilutes the rigor and transparency of procurement, with awards based on more subjective, rather than objective criteria. This would be a worrying trend if other countries followed suit.
And what are the propositions which we are putting into our proposal documents? Suppliers are being forced to adapt to a new definition of normal, where their standard operating models are on hold. Outsourcing businesses who traditionally deliver face-to-face services to the public may be amongst those facing the biggest challenges in redefining how their services are delivered.
And when all the dust has finally settled, and we all come out of the other side of this, what can we expect then? Business continuity and risk management will inevitably be a higher priority ask from public buyers in their specifications and tender documents, ensuring that the most robust contingency measures for goods and services are in place if we should ever find ourselves in this situation again.
These are indeed unprecedented times which will have an acute and ongoing bearing on procurement and proposal writing for a long time yet to come. We may only just be beginning to fully understand the extent of what lies ahead.