On 25th March 2015 the Bishop of Peterborough, Rt Revd Donald Allister, spoke in a debate in the House of Lords on NHS public contracts regulations. The Bishop raised concerns over the haste with which the regulations had been brought forward. The text of his contirbution is below, followed by the relevant sections of the Minister’s response:
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for bringing this Motion. I will speak only very briefly because he has given most of the detail and said most of what I want to say, particularly about the confusion in the tendering and commissioning process. Integrating health and social care is obviously right—I very strongly support it—but why the rush? Why not do it slowly and carefully? If I understand aright, Scotland has entered a lengthy, considered stakeholder consultation and will finalise its regulations on health and social care at the same time, by April 2016, along with the majority of EU member states. So why do we have to go so quickly? I do not understand the rush in one-half of the equation, which unbalances the whole thing.
Experience tells us—we have had examples from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—that changes on this scale are highly complex, deeply disruptive to those involved and often much harder to implement than initially imagined. Is not proper consultation, careful decision-making and measured implementation the right way forward in such matters? I, too, urge the Government to take this more slowly and get it right, because it really is important and we want to support it.
Earl Howe (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for initiating this debate on what is a very important subject. Let me begin by emphasising one key point. The main purpose of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 is to implement the new EU procurement directive. There is no choice over whether the UK transposes that directive: it is mandatory to do so. It contains the new rules regime by which all European public authorities have to abide. The Government implemented this directive early to realise as soon as possible the economic benefits from the modernised rules regime. Both the noble Lord and the right reverend Prelate have expressed criticism to us for doing so, but the reason is that this should lead to more than £4 billion-worth of benefits to the economy each and every year. That could not be overlooked.
As time is moving on, I shall not dwell too much longer on the points raised: rather, I will write to noble Lords and to the right reverend Prelate. I will simply summarise by saying that I think very firmly that the economic benefits of the new procurement regulations provide a strong rationale to justify the UK’s rapid approach to implementation. We have delayed transposition for NHS England and CCGs until April next year in recognition of the special nature of the sector. This is the latest point available to allow NHS England and CCGs time to adapt to the new requirements. We believe that that is a sensible and pragmatic decision. I acknowledge the concerns around complexity over which legal regime applies in joint commissioning, but I can confirm that these issues are being addressed through the provision of guidance and support. I can also reassure noble Lords that the commissioners of clinical services continue to be free to commission services in the best interests of NHS patients. I hope that my response has gone some way to mollify the regret of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on these matters.