Media storm over British Medals contract awarded to French company
12 April 2016
It is not often that public procurement contract awards are debated in Parliament or grab the headlines, but that is exactly what happened after the recent decision by the Cabinet office to appoint the French medal manufacturer, Arthus-Betrand, to a framework agreement for the “supply of medals and insignia which are presented by, or on behalf of The Queen, at various times throughout the year”.
- This was a three year framework agreement, valued at £1.3million and advertised for an open tender in the Official Journal of the European Union in November 2015. The framework agreement included some of the most prestigious British awards, such as the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), the George Cross and the Order of Bath. Appointing an overseas company to this framework agreement was always going to generate strong feelings. The fact that the successful French company, Arthus-Bertrand, was established in Paris in 1800s shortly after Napoleon created the Legion d’Honneur only fuelled the flames.
- Ian Austin, MP for Dudley North, representing the medal manufacturers in his constituency, raised the issue at Prime Ministers questions. Although David Cameron had been unaware of this contract, he stated his preference that where something can be made in Britain it should be. Not surprisingly, Arthus-Betrand were fairly indignant over the criticisms levelled at the contract award pointing out that they had competed fairly in an open tender and felt they had offered the best quality and price.
- Not all the media reporting was entirely accurate. It was correct that Arthus-Betrand had been appointed to the framework agreement to supply medals and insignia. However, that was alongside eight other British companies, including the Royal Mint, Worcestershire Medal Service and others. The very nature of a framework agreement is that it sets out a framework under which a public body can award future “mini contracts”. At the time of the furore no specific contract had yet been placed with Arthus-Betrand, and there is no guarantee they will win any future business.
- That leads onto the wider question of what practically can the UK government do to protect local businesses when they are procuring public contracts. At the very heart of procurement regulations, which for many public contracts are contained in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, is the principle of Non-Discrimination. That means that a public body cannot discriminate against or in favour of a particular business based on their locality. In other words, a British company should have exactly the same opportunity for bidding for a contract to manufacture medals for the French government as a French company should have to manufacture British medals.
- There are some potential exceptions to this, including contracts below the threshold values in the Procurement Regulations (see our Procurement Guide for more details). There are also opportunities for making public contracts more appealing to local businesses, such as dividing large contracts into lots and opening the market to SMEs. However, generally, if an overseas business can demonstrate that they have been excluded from or unfairly lost a public tender, they can challenge that decision through the English Courts. No doubt Arthus-Betrand, as well as the British media, will be keeping a very close eye on the specific contracts awarded under the medals and insignia framework agreement.
Clarkslegal, specialist Public Procurement lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
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