The UK’s Department for International Development and the Home Office have jointly published the UK’s Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2017- 2022 outlining, inter alia, a goal of “greater procurement transparency, enabling better identification and mitigation of corruption risk”, while the Government would promote an “open by default culture in public contracting at home and internationally”.
The strategy identifies six priorities that will be the focus of Government efforts to 2022:
1. Reduce the insider threat in high risk domestic sectors
2. Strengthen the integrity of the UK as an international financial centre
3. Promote integrity across the public and private sectors
4. Reduce corruption in public procurement and grants
5. Improve the business environment globally
6. Work with other countries to combat corruption
Public sector procurement accounted for around a third of total government spending in 2016 and “this level of expenditure, together with the levels of interaction between officials, business and other stakeholders, creates risks of corruption and fraud that need to be effectively managed”, says the strategy.
It highlights a 2009 case when more than 100 construction firms were fined a total of £129.5m for bid-rigging on 199 tenders between 2000 and 2006. The projects included schools, hospitals and universities.
The investigation, sparked by a complaint from an NHS auditor in Nottingham, uncovered evidence of cover pricing, where firms submit artificially high bids that are not intended to be successful, in more than 4,000 tenders involving over 1,000 companies.
The strategy states that public sector buyers will be given guidance to identify and tackle corruption in procurement processes, while a trial of conviction checks for bidders in the Crown Commercial Service will start later this month.
“By February 2018 we will produce and disseminate guidance to government procurers on applying exclusions in the procurement process, managing conflicts of interest and whistleblowing,” said the report.
It added: “In the last six years the UK government has taken significant steps to strengthen its commercial capability, especially in procurement so that commercial activities deliver value for money and risks are managed effectively.
“We have strong systems in place to detect and tackle corruption but the nature of this activity demands ongoing effort to maintain our capability in both central and local government.”