The contract culture: procurement or purchasing?

Even before the recent cuts, public bodies were increasingly moving from giving grants to the third sector, to contracts for services instead.

This has led public bodies down a procurement path. Grants could be decided as a matter of policy — contracts have to be bought in the marketplace. The Public Procurement Regulations govern how contracts are awarded: advertising, bidding, evaluation criteria, scoring panels, standstill periods, and finally for the lucky winner, a contract. A long and complicated process, and an expensive one for bidders at a time when resources are very tight.

But there is another way, especially for smaller contracts below the EU thresholds which mandate the full process. Of course, the general principles of transparency, fairness, equal treatment, and value for public funds apply at all levels. These are known in the procurement trade as the Treaty Principles.

Consider the humble price list. A public official can test the market by researching prices and specifications online, then making a purchasing decision, the same day if necessary.

So, I would just suggest that it might help some third sector organisations to publish a rate card, especially for routine small service contracts, just in case someone is looking to buy quickly.

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