Major European Grant Success for Law School

Bangor University Law School’s Professor Dermot Cahill and Ceri Evans have just successfully led a €4 million research grant bid (the WIT project), a collaboration with Dublin City University’s Strategic Procurement Unit led by Paul Davis of DCU Business School. This major award, announced last week against stiff international competition, will be funded until the end of 2013 by the European Union’s Ireland/Wales INTERREG Innovation & Competitiveness programme. Bangor University Law School will be the Lead Partner.

The project is expected to have a major impact on the cross-border economy in terms of wealth generation, employment integration, and in terms of generating more and better jobs, thus aligning with the Europe 2020 agenda. WIT outputs will also escalate Bangor Law School’s impact narrative for the UK’s Research Excellence Framework.

Major features of the WIT work Programme will include the carrying out of detailed research into the impact of the 2009 European Union Procurement Law Remedies Directive, drawing on Professor Cahill’s team’s experience in the area of European Procurement Law.  This Directive is already having a major impact, not only on the Remedies that the Common Law courts can, or cannot offer, disappointed tenderers, but also on the behaviour and strategic practices of public sector organisations (purchasers), as well as the SMEs who supply them with goods and services.  The WIT Project will occupy the interface between civil service practices, institutional memory and legal obligation, and will aid the implementation of the EU Remedies Directive in two EU Member States. This will be of considerable interest to the European Commission.

The project was ranked number 1 in the extensive evaluation process. Also during project development, WIT received major expressions of support from leading key stakeholders in both countries, including (on the Welsh side) the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Value Wales Procurement (Welsh Assembly Government), Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Trade Union Congress (TUC), the Department of Enterprise & Transport (WAG). These stakeholders will assist in supporting the “Winning in Tendering” (WIT) project’s implementation, and ensure its sustainability in the post-funding period (for example, WAG have offered to include the WIT outputs on the National Public Procurement Website, and incorporate elements into the Public Sector Procurement Route Planner and the Flexible Support for Business website).

INTERREG have designated the WIT project as Strategic in nature, reflecting the potential international transformational impact of the project. WIT will examine and devise methods which have the potential to transform the cross-border small indigenous supplier (SIS) community’s capacity and capability to win public sector tenders. Also WIT has the potential to revolutionise the cross-border public procurement culture by re-engineering public procurement practices thus aligning them with SIS vulnerabilities.

The WIT project was also singled-out as Strategic in status because of its potential to influence policy and because of the WIT methodologies' application to other European economies, particularly the Accession States that are likely to benefit most from knowledge transfer of WIT research and outputs.

Another major feature of the WIT Project will be the development of a unique “look-back” framework methodology, which, when developed, will allow small suppliers to identify why exactly they failed in previous tenders, and thereby empower them to re-enter the public tendering game. Post-funding, this methodology is earmarked for adoption in both Wales and Ireland by the national public bodies responsible for ensuring economic sustainability.

The WIT project will develop the first ever SIS-friendly procurement Competency Framework, which may well supplant and replace existing procurement competency frameworks currently used by public purchasers as it will be based on an entirely new qualitative and quantitative design approach. It is expected to prove a catalyst in ensuring public procurers adopt an approach that provides a level playing field for smaller suppliers.

This is drawing on research which Professor Cahill’s team undertook in 2008 and 2009 for the Welsh Assembly Government in the now widely praised “Barriers to Procurement” Report.  This Report is having a major impact on public purchasing practices and many of its recommendations have been swiftly acted upon by the Welsh Assembly Government who are now piloting its Recommendations with a view to assessing their impact on altering public tendering processes in Wales.

Another innovative feature of the WIT Project which is attracting major attention is the project’s plans for developing an on-line Diagnostic ‘health-check’ Tool which will allow SIS’s to self-evaluate their tender readiness or unreadiness, thus eradicating the risk of SISs chasing contracts they do not have the skills to win and also providing a route-map to enable them to leapfrog forward.

WIT research will also lead to the greater uptake of effective transparent lower value procurement practices, thus providing more contract opportunities of the perfect size for smaller suppliers that are prominent throughout the cross-border area. This is a particularly important aspect of the project, given the UK Government’s aspiration for 25% of public sector trade to be awarded to SMEs.

Welcoming the announcement of the award of this major funding, which will last for a 4 year period, Professor Cahill commented: 

“This is a fantastic achievement for Bangor Law School, because in the Law School we have now brought together a range of skills, not just legal experts but also business and procurement process experts, who, when all of their combined skills are put together, present an extremely formidable 10-strong research team, credible in the eyes of major funding sources such as the European Union’s INTERREG programme. Our College of Business, Social Science & Law provides excellent depth of expertise to support the team’s operational needs.

This major award follows on recent grant awards made to several members of the Law School, and reflects the fact that the Law School’s academics are readily adapting to the new UK Research Excellence Framework indicator of international funded research achievement and excellence, where our research is increasingly recognised as having a positive impact on public policy formulation, in particular the Citizen - Business / Government interface.

We look forward to working with Dublin City University, who, led by Paul Davis, are the leaders in Strategic Procurement Education and Research in Ireland, and we look forward to engaging in extremely valuable knowledge transfer, in both directions, across the Irish Sea, for the mutual benefit of not only public sector purchasers in the region, but also, the small indigenous supplier sector.  We must not forget that both Ireland and Wales are lands populated by small businesses who will not have the chance to grow into serious medium-sized companies large enough to compete with their international peers, unless they have the right skills, knowledge and opportunities to grow their businesses.  One of the most effective ways to do this is by being able to better compete for public sector contracts for goods and services: the WIT Project fits neatly into that space, and will be a Strategic University-led contribution to the development of innovation and competitiveness across the entire Ireland-Wales INTERREG region.

What was particularly attractive about this project to the INTERREG evaluators is that many of its innovative outputs will be readily transferrable to other European Union Member States, in particular, most interest will probably come from the Accession States, and so we are particularly delighted that the selection process evaluated us so highly across a range of assessment indicators, ranging from economic and policy impact, sustainability, advancement of equal opportunities, legal reform, etc.”

Professor Ted Gardener of the College of Business, Social Sciences and Law said of the Award:

“The WIT project was won in the face of intense competition and will carry out detailed research into the impact of the 2009 EU Procurement Law Remedies Directive and is expected to have a major impact on the cross-border economy in terms of wealth generation, employment integration, and in terms of generating more and better jobs. This is a most important research project for Bangor University and for Wales. WIT is a project whose results are likely to have a direct bearing on economic growth and value added. As we continue to work for the post-crisis economic recovery, the importance of this major project cannot be overstated. This is an exciting and much needed investment in research that really matters”.

Publication date: 15 October 2010