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It is up to councils to decide the right balance between price and quality when evaluating bids for white collar se...
It is up to councils to decide the right balance between price and quality when evaluating bids for white collar services, according to the DoE. The news is contained in draft anti competitive practices guidance for white collar competitive tendering leaked to LGC this week. It appears to give councils greater freedom to reject the lowest bid on quality grounds for white collar services than exists for blue collar services.

The draft statutory framework says quality concerns may 'lead to a decision to reject a lower bid in favour of the direct service organisation'. The document is an adaptation of the existing anti competitive guidance for manual services (Circular 10/93) to make it applicable to legal, information technology, finance, personnel, corporate and administrative, construction related and housing management services.

It is currently being discussed by the joint DoE/local authority association working parties on white collar CCT. The amended circular makes more post tender negotiations possible for professional services than is permissible currently for services already subject to competition.

It also proposes that for some services, such as advocacy or litigation, councils may specify in contracts that named individuals be responsible for carrying out the work throughout the contract. Other changes include an acceptance that councils may require contractors to use particular premises where it is important for the effective provision of services. An obvious example of this is estates offices.

In manual services it is deemed potentially anti-competitive to demand that contractors use council depots. As with manual services councils must taken into account in tender evaluation any benefit accruing where contractors do not wish to use premises or assets made available to them. But the draft guidance introduces some exemptions from this requirement.

'No such credit need to be offered for other assets, such as mainframe information technology systems, where these cannot in the short term be released for alternative use or disposal', the draft guidance says.

The guidance leaves scope for considerable flexibility on packaging of contracts. 'The secretary of state does not rule out alternative approaches to tendering. He is prepared to consider local authorities' arguments for the approach they have taken to packaging work where they can justify it on operational grounds as providing the most appropriate form of service delivery'.

Councils should not include in contracts a requirement that a successful contractor forgo similar work for other clients for the duration of the contract says the guidance. Councils would normally be able to rely on professional codes of conduct to avoid conflicts of interest arising.

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