The National Infrastructure Strategy published alongside the recent Spending Review contains a number of pointers for the ways in which public procurement spending is likely to flow in the future. In this article we focus on spending plans in the Telecoms and Transport markets to draw out some of the trends that market participants may wish to bear in mind as they position themselves for public procurement opportunities.
The working from home revolution triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic shone a light on the ability of many businesses to transition to home working without missing a beat. Telecoms infrastructure has typically been reliable and allowed vast sectors of the economy to maintain productivity whilst not being able to access the office. Home working looks set to remain the default for several months at least for many millions of workers. Whilst overall telecoms infrastructure has performed well there remain large variations in performance and resilience. In this regard the Strategy points to continuing government support for gigabit-capable broadband, which the public sector will subsidise to the tune of £5 billion, and investment in developing 5G. We see relatively frequent contract notices and invitations to participate in early market engagement for 5G opportunities, indicating that suppliers have the opportunity to shape this area and engage with contracting authorities. Bevan Brittan has been at the forefront of developments in this area having developed legal models for 5G deployment for local authorities on behalf of the Connect Place Catapult and are currently advising Sunderland City Council on its commitment to rolling out a 5G neutral host network across the city region.
Transport infrastructure investment is fundamental to delivery of the net zero carbon by 2050 target. A rapidly developing area of growth is in electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The Infrastructure Strategy cites £1.3 billion of public investment to be used to support delivery of a rapid charging network across motorway and A-road service stations. The vast bulk of this investment will be in boosting grid capacity along motorways and service stations. In tandem with a recent National Grid report there is a growing momentum behind the exponential growth of electric vehicle use in the UK. The National Grid envisages scenarios in which there will be over 11 million electric vehicles on British roads by 2030 and over 30 million by 2040. Innovative vehicle-to-grid technology could mean that vehicles themselves become a core component of a flexible and responsive electricity grid.
This is a rapidly developing field and one in which some contracting authorities are taking significant steps to shape the market and generate investment in their region, both contributing to local climate goals and providing resources to meet growing demand. We have seen an increasing number of procurements being launched seeking operators to provide electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Some of this work is supported by grant funding from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) – funding which has been boosted as part of the push from central government to recast transport in the age of Covid-19 – but we are also seeing innovation from contracting authorities directly.
A House of Commons briefing paper published earlier this year indicates the scale of the challenge ahead. The authors cited research by the Committee on Climate Change that suggested public charging points would need to increase from 2,700 in 2016 to 27,000 by 2030. Public procurement will play a crucial role in ensuring that growth on this scale can be delivered. As yet, we have not seen a consistent approach to procurement strategy. We have seen frameworks established in some areas, the use of concession contracts in others and some direct awards. There are also authorities procuring consultants to develop feasibility studies. Opportunities range from providing fully managed solutions for an entire electric vehicle charging network to installing a handful of charging points as a one-off project.
With the market still in a state of some flux there are opportunities for suppliers to influence the development of procurement strategies by seeking out and participating in market engagement exercises or by competing in opportunities that arise so as to establish their presence and reputation in the UK market. For contracting authorities there is the opportunity to develop strategies that will provide infrastructure likely to be essential for the future and to attract keen bidders able to offer innovative solutions while the market is still developing.
Bevan Brittan has a well developed procurement offering, advising from inception through to contract award and beyond. We also have a dedicated procurement litigation support team, highly experienced in ensuring procurement challenges are resolved and capable of acting quickly and decisively to support either contracting authorities or challengers.