Archive 2016 08

13 ESPD Opening doors for public sector projects Richard Piper, partner and construction supply chain specialist at Gordons law firm, assesses the impact of the new European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) and explores how smaller firms can take advantage to help secure public sector contracts FOR many years small to medium-sized contractors found that they had access to public procurement work severely curtailed by the administrative burden placed upon them at the very early stages of the selection process. Comprehensive pre-qualification requirements were forcing many smaller firms out of the picture for public sector work, simply unable to compete with the buying power and box-ticking credentials of large construction firms. This has not only been an issue for the SMEs, but also for the contracting authorities who have faced restrictions on the pool of private sector firms from which they can choose. Often the selection was limited to those who could provide the often costly technical qualification and certification documents required at the prequalification stage. An EU-wide solution In January, the European Commission introduced the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD), marking a significant administrative change which is designed to create a level playing field for all contractors. Replacing the previous systems, which differed drastically amongst EU countries, the ESPD allows all businesses to electronically self-declare that they meet the necessary regulatory criteria or commercial capability requirements. Only the winning company will then need to submit all the documentation proving that it qualifies for the contract. For as long as the UK remains in the EU, firms can now self-certify their compliance with various conditions, including innocence of any corruption/bribery/fraud or similar convictions, technical and professional ability, as well as sufficient economic and financial resources. The forms will also standardise the wording of pre-qualification applications in all the official languages of the EU, so removing the ambiguity and confusion that often comes with statements and declarations in cross-border public sector work. The ESPD will undoubtedly create a level playing field for contractors to bid for work. Using a standard form of self-declaration, together with a free, web-based system developed for member states. It has removed red tape and made it easier for smaller firms to submit tenders without the need to provide certificates from statutory authorities or other public sector bodies. However, will it help SMEs in EU member countries to actually win more public sector projects? Only time will tell. Proving credentials The key is in the term ‘level playing field’. What ESPD doesn’t do – and rightly so in my opinion – is create an advantage for SMEs over larger firms; contracts will still be awarded on the same basis that they always have, with contracting authorities using factors such as a price, quality, deliverability and technical ability to award the contract – irrespective of who tenders. It is up to SMEs to prove their credentials. The ESPD does have the potential to enable contracting authorities to appoint someone more quickly, and of course this benefit applies to any tendering organisation, whether they are an international giant or a local SME. This will, of course, deliver benefits for local authorities too, who are just as keen to remove the administrative burden so commonly associated with public sector procurement work. There is potential to make even greater time savings too with the introduction of an electronic format, which will be mandatory by 2018. From January 26 this year, all contracting authorities must use the ESPD except for procurement processes that have commenced prior to that date. ESPD must be provided to suppliers exclusively in an electronic format from October 18, 2018. Removing red rape Overall, the ESPD removes administration, creates a level playing field and makes it easy for any firm, irrespective of size and stature, to tender for public sector work. For that, the European Commission must be applauded in bringing to fruition a scheme that can save time and money for construction companies and contracting authorities alike. n Richard Piper “The ESPD will undoubtedly create a level playing field for contractors to bid for work. Using a standard form of self-declaration, together with a free, web-based system developed for member states”

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