Under EU law, public contracts above a certain value must be advertised EU-wide and awarded to the most competitive tender in an open and objective process. The aim is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime that delivers value for money. It would be a breach of the rules for a public body to favour, or discriminate against, particular candidates on grounds of location or nationality and there are legal remedies that may be used against any public body infringing these rules.
Reform of public procurement is one of the major projects of key strategic importance in the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan, which was published in November 2011. Procurement of supplies and services accounts for around €9 billion of current spending by the State per annum. This represents a very significant portion of overall spending and it is, therefore, essential that the Public Service achieves maximum value for money and operational efficiency in its approach to public procurement.
The National Procurement Service (NPS) has put in place a number of national arrangements designed to secure better value for money from leveraging the public service’s buying power in relation to a range of goods and services that are commonly purchased across the public service. In establishing these arrangements the NPS is particularly mindful of the provisions of Dept of Finance Circular 10/10 that seeks to remove any potential barriers to the participation of SMEs in the public service procurement process. These provisions include the need for proportionality, reduced administration (paperwork), the open advertising of all contracts over the value of €25,000 etc. In the case of printing the National Procurement Service has also established a panel of printers from which public bodies can easily access printing services. It is also the policy of the NPS to only aggregate contracts where it is apparent that such a strategy could yield optimum results. In a situation where it is deemed more appropriate to bring smaller contracts individually to the market, without recourse to European competition, then this is the strategy pursued. This later approach can offer better opportunities for local suppliers to compete.
It is noteworthy that all current NPS contracts for printing services are with Irish-based printers.
In order to encourage greater SME participation the NPS, over the past three years, has conducted a targeted programme of education for suppliers who wish to learn more about doing business with the Irish Public Service. This programme consists of seminars, workshops and large scale 'meet the buyer' events hosted nationwide. To date the NPS has facilitated workshops and presented at seminars to over 4,500 SMEs nationwide. Parallel with these events the NPS also works closely with business representative bodies such as ISME and IBEC to provide briefings for their members on issues directly related to procurement.