The development of a new online system to replace OJEU in the event of a no-deal Brexit is already ‘well under way’, the government has confirmed
The news comes just days after the government issued papers outlining the impact of a failure to agree to a deal with the EU over the UK’s departure from the union.
Among the many challenges detailed in the documents is included the need for a fully operational alternative to Europe’s online procurement portal by 29 March, a complex task some architects feared would lead to delays in commissioning projects.
According to the Cabinet Office, a specialist team was already on the job. A government spokesperson said: ‘In the unlikely event that the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 with no deal in place regarding future arrangements on access to OJEU/TED, a replacement UK-specific e-notification service will be made available.
‘Our planning has been very detailed and the changes to both the law and the UK portal are well under way. The new system is being developed by an experienced team with a track record of delivering similar systems.’
The new ‘distinct and separate system’ will follow Government Digital Service guidelines and will not be built on the existing Contracts Finder portal, which was launched in 2011 and remains in its beta version, the statement continued.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the new system would operate simultaneously with both Contracts Finder and other portals.
Luke Tozer of Pitman Tozer Architects welcomed the new system but criticised the government for announcing the risks of a no-deal Brexit without providing full details, a move he claimed had caused ’further uncertainty’ and potentially created ’an environment where commissioning decisions are postponed’.
He said: ‘If it’s not done until it’s all done, and it’s not done soon, then the cliff-edge “no deal” becomes an increasingly likely possibility. The uncertainty that comes along with this produces indecision and delay, procurement deferred, with real economic consequences: families living in substandard housing living in it longer, fewer new homes delivered.’
The uncertainty that comes along with this produces indecision and delay … with real economic consequences
He added: ‘The best thing the government could do would be to introduce the new system now, for the real benefits it could bring, as soon as possible, regardless of whether there is a deal or not.’
RIBA president Ben Derbyshire argued OJEU’s replacement was ‘just one small element of a massive potential disruption’ posed by a no-deal Brexit which could also limit access to talent and bring new obstacles to trade.
He said: ‘Before anyone gets too excited about OJEU being abandoned, take note that this is unlikely to happen any time soon. It is worth taking a while to consider that it is not so much the bureaucracy that is at fault in creating difficulties for architects in obtaining work. The range of procedures available through OJEU includes many that are quite sensible.
‘The real issue with UK procurement is the dreadful culture of so many developer clients – often in the public sector – who seek to dump unacceptable risk on their professional teams and often with self-defeating consequences.’
Walter Menteth, director of Project Compass, questioned whether a ‘meaningful, effective and efficient system’ could be ready – with consultation – within six months.
He said key questions included whether public clients and architects will be required to navigate complicated multiple procurement systems, whether OJEU-advertised notices and responses prior to 29 March would remain valid following the cut-off, and whether PQQ core requirements would continue to be standardised across Europe.
He also questioned whether the new system would generate similar data as that used with OJEU to ensure transparency and sustain compliance with the regulations.
Commenting on the possible OJEU replacement, Menteth described the cost of developing viable contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit as a ‘misdirected and wasted opportunity’.
He said: ‘It’s not being spent on getting Contracts Finder up to scratch, making its data more transparent, [and making] it a one-stop platform for issuing and uploading notices and bids, and more widely improving UK’s procurement practices – which are arcane and regressive relative to so many of our EU competitors – or, for that matter, spent on meeting desperate housing needs.’
He continued: ‘It is difficult to see how this is not a recipe for reducing opportunity, increasing confusion, complexity, and a loss of transparency – even if it’s ready on time.’