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Basics of Public Procurement

Procurement is the purchasing of goods, works and services. It is an essential part of delivering public services across Cornwall.

Our Commercial Services team provide a central function that advise and support the Council on procurement. The team advises the Council on all aspects of:

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  • commissioning
  • procurement and
  • contract management

They also oversee our internal and external supply base.

Commercial Services also set procurement rules for the Council; the 'Contract Procedure Rules'. The main purpose of these rules is to ensure that all contracts are entered into lawfully and on the most economically advantageous terms for the Council. The rules exist to demonstrate that the whole procurement process is open, honest and transparent. Officers are required to follow the rules and the associated principles when undertaking procurement activities.

We have a legal requirement to comply with the EU procurement directives.  They govern the way in which public sector procurement is conducted for contracts over certain specified thresholds. The directives and associated UK regulations require councils to follow detailed procedures for all procurements above these financial thresholds.

The thresholds are reviewed every two years.  The thresholds effective from the 1 January 2020 are:






The above thresholds relate to the whole of a contract and not just the annual spend. I.e. a three year contract with an annual spend of £60,000 (equating to £180,000) will fall under the requirements of the EU rules.

The process for procurement over these thresholds is summarised below:

  • Decide which of the procedures (detailed below) is appropriate
  • Publish a contract notice in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) to give all EU suppliers an equal opportunity to tender
  • Invite tenders according to the procedure being used (open, restricted, negotiated, competitive dialogue). Taking account of the minimum timescales imposed, to ensure that reasonable time is given to respond to adverts and prepare submissions
  • Select a suitable contractor using the criteria published in the contract notice
  • Place a contract award notice in OJEU

Under the procurement regulations, the Council can conduct its procurement using any one of the following procedures:

Open: any organisation can express an interest and are entitled to tender

Restricted: (a two stage process) organisations expressing an interest undergo an initial pre-qualification assessment. Only the selected applicants are invited to tender. This is by far the most common process (a similar two stage process is also used for procurement below the EU threshold).

Other processes are rarely used;

  • negotiated procedure
  • competitive dialogue
  • dynamic purchasing systems

Further information on these processes can be found on the European Commission website.