Tenders Direct Blog

Comment from the experts at Tenders Direct.

Time-scales under the 2015 Public Contracts Regulations

Posted by Kim Postlethwaite on June 22, 2015

The recent Tenders Direct Blog posts have been explaining and commenting on the new rules applicable under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 that transposed the 2014 EU Directive. One of the most common queries received by the support desks at Millstream have been surrounding what the new minimum time-scales for the various procedures are. This blog post aims to assist in clarifying these time limits. A printable version of the time limits for the most common procedures can also be found on Millstream’s mytenders portal here.

The time limits refer to the number of calendar days prior to the deadline for submission of responses. They start from the date the notice is sent to OJEU for publication. This does cause some concern with both suppliers and buyers as it is at least 48 hours after this date before the notice can be advertised nationally (for further information please see this blog post). It is worth remembering that the rules require that “adequate” time is given. These minimum time limits are a safeguard but it may be the case in some circumstances that these minimum time limits are not “adequate” for the level of information required as part of the tender.

Prior to explaining the various time-scales and the various reductions that can be applied it is worth clarifying that the reductions previously applied for notices that were sent electronically or when documents were made available electronically are no longer applicable as both of these are now mandatory under Regulation 51 and Regulation 53.

It is also worth noting that for some procedures different time limits apply to sub-central contracting authorities. “sub-central contracting authorities” means all contracting authorities which are not central government authorities. The central government authorities are detailed within Schedule 1. Where applicable, details of these differing time limits has been provided below.

THE TIME-SCALES:

OPEN PROCEDURE

Normally 35 calendar days.
This can be reduced to 30 days if tender responses are submitted electronically. – i.e. the use of the electronic postbox available through the mytenders Pro service.

Or,

15 calendar days if a Prior Information Notice (PIN) has been published for at least 35 days and no longer than 12 months.
The purpose of a PIN is to alert potential tenderers of forthcoming contracts which will be advertised. As prior warning of the notice has been given it is understood that a substantial reduction can be granted however to ensure this is not abused the age of the PIN is significant. An exception to this is granted to “social and other specific services” (i.e. those potentially subject to the Light Touch Regime). These types of services can apply this reduction using a PIN that was published over 12 months prior.

ACCELERATED OPEN PROCEDURE

15 calendar days.
No further reductions apply.
If this procedure is being used then the contracting authority must specify in the tender itself the reason for the urgency of the procurement.
This is a new procedure type under the 2015 regulations. The justification for accelerating a procedure is discussed in more detail within this blog post.

RESTRICTED PROCEDURE
COMPETITIVE PROCEDURE WITH NEGOTIATION (previously referred to as the “Negotiated Procedure”)

Both of these procedures have the same rules surrounding minimum time-scales.

Stage 1 (pre-qualification stage)

30 calendar days.
No reductions are applicable to this stage.

Or,

Sub-central contracting authorities can substitute the contract notice (this stage 1) with the publication of a PIN. This PIN must clearly state that it is the call for competition and that the buyer will be proceeding straight to the second stage. Further information on this can be found here.

Stage 2

Normally 30 calendar days.
This can be reduced to 25 calendar days if tender responses are submitted electronically. – i.e. the use of the electronic postbox available through the mytenders Pro service.

Or,

10 calendar days if a Prior Information Notice has been published for at least 35 days and no longer than 12 months.
This can only be used where the stage 1 contract notice has been published. The use of a PIN as a call for competition does not qualify the stage 2 for this reduction.
The purpose of a PIN is to alert potential tenderers of forthcoming contracts which will be advertised. If prior warning of the notice has been given it is understood that a substantial reduction can be granted however to ensure this is not abused the age of the PIN is significant. An exception to this is granted to “social and other specific services” (i.e. those potentially subject to the Light Touch Regime). These types of services can apply a reduction using a PIN that was published over 12 months prior.

Or,

Sub-central contracting authorities, can agree any time-scale with bidders and if not agreed with bidders then the buyer can set a time limit to as low as 10 calendar days.

ACCELERATED RESTRICTED PROCEDURE and
ACCELERATED COMPETITIVE PROCEDURE WITH NEGOTIATION (previously referred to as the “Accelerated Negotiated Procedure”)

Both of these procedures have the same rules surrounding minimum time-scales.

Stage 1 (pre-qualification stage)

15 calendar days.
No further reductions apply.
If this procedure is being used then the contracting authority must specify in the tender itself the reason for the urgency of the procurement. The justification for accelerating a procedure is discussed in more detail within this blog post.

Stage 2

10 calendar days.
No further reductions apply.
The intention to use the accelerated procedure and the justification must have been specified within the first stage advert as mentioned above.

INNOVATION PARTNERSHIP

This is a brand new procedure. Further information on this procedure can be found in this EU fact sheet.

Stage 1 (pre-qualification stage)

30 calendar days.
No reductions are applicable to this stage.

Stage 2

Normally 30 calendar days.
This can be reduced to 25 calendar days if tender responses submitted electronically. – i.e. the use of the electronic postbox available through the mytenders Pro service.

Or,

10 calendar days if a Prior Information Notice (PIN) has been published for at least 35 days and no longer than 12 months.
The purpose of a PIN is to alert potential tenderers of forthcoming contracts which will be advertised. As prior warning of the notice has been given it is understood that a substantial reduction can be granted however to ensure this is not abused the age of the PIN is significant. An exception to this is granted to “social and other specific services” (i.e. those potentially subject to the Light Touch Regime). These types of services can apply this reduction using a PIN that was published over 12 months prior.

Or,

Sub-central contracting authorities, can agree any time-scale with bidders and if not agreed with bidders then the buyer can set a time limit to as low as 10 calendar days.

ACCELERATED INNOVATION PARTNERSHIP

Stage 1 (pre-qualification stage)

15 calendar days.
No further reductions apply.
If this procedure is being used then the contracting authority must specify in the tender itself the reason for the urgency of the procurement. The justification for accelerating a procedure is discussed in more detail within this blog post.

Stage 2

10 calendar days.
No further reductions apply.
The intention to use the accelerated procedure and the justification must have been specified within the first stage advert as mentioned above.

COMPETITIVE DIALOGUE

Stage 1 (pre-qualification stage)

30 calendar days.
No further reductions apply.

Subsequent Dialogue Stages

There are no explicit rules regarding the time limits for these stages.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON BUYERS AND SUPPLIERS?

The majority of the time limits have been reduced and more flexibility granted to buyers, especially sub-central contracting authorities. This is a welcome advancement for buyers. However, the process has been complicated by the new publication policies.

Buyers are often confused by when the time limits are to commence. It is clear from the legislation that the time limits start from the point the notice is sent for publication but this seems unfair to suppliers due to the delay in any advertisement of the opportunity for usually at least 48 hours. As can be seen above, many procedures only require 15 days, if 15 days is specified and there is a full 48 hour delay in the notice being advertised nationally then the notice is only public for 13 days.

Suppliers are often notified of these opportunities through alert services such as Tenders Direct and the user may only review their matches once a day so it could be a further day before they are aware of the opportunity allowing them only 12 days to decide if they wish to bid and to put a tender together. There is also the added complication of “what other option do we have?” Buyers cannot be expected to guess when the notice will be published by OJEU and they have to have specified their tender deadline dates at the point of sending the notice for publication. Should perhaps the deadlines all be extended by an additional 2 days? Or has this already been accounted for within the new time-scales?

Regardless, it could be argued that this is counter-acted by the “adequate time limits” requirement. As aforementioned, buyers are to allow adequate time so regardless of whether the minimum time limits are 15 days, if this does not allow adequate time then they must allow for longer. How many buyers are aware of this obligation though?

HOW CAN BUYERS REDUCE THEIR TIME-SCALES?

The most freely available way to reduce the time limits is to allow for electronic submissions. Unfortunately, requesting the emailing of tenders does not qualify for applying this reduction. Fortunately, Millstream can help. The mytenders Pro package includes a postbox facility that allows electronic submissions to be made through the portal and does comply with the regulations for reducing time-scales. The online postbox allows buyers to receive submissions in a secure environment. Suppliers can upload 30Mb of documents to their submission and once the deadline has passed the selected buyer users must unlock the postbox and can then download the submissions. A full audit trail of all activity is recorded and the responses remain accessible on the system indefinitely for authorised users.

Call the team today on 0844 561 0670.

This blog was co-authored with Nelson Poon – Customer Support Advisor at Millstream

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