P2P Europe

On 8 October 2013 the Aswad Composite Mills factory, in Gazipur, outside Dhaka in Bangladesh burnt down. Seven workers were killed and a further fifty were injured in the fire. As newspaper reports state, the fire came soon after eleven hundred workers had been killed in a blaze at the Rana Plaza factory, a tragedy which led to more than ninety High Street retailers reaching an accord to ensure fire and safety inspections at their suppliers’ premises. The Aswad Composite Mills were not amongst those to be inspected because they were not perceived to be in the direct supply chain of the Western retailers.

I thought of these tragedies when reading the draft Directive on public procurement regarding use of “life cycle costs” in assessment procedures. I am aware of the possibility of bathos in that sentence – I was reflecting on the very real human cost of supply chain decisions the further one looks back through the tiers.

I have been reading the draft of the new Procurement Directive. I had previously dipped into it but have now read all 360-odd pages in sequence. There is a lot in the draft Directive of value, particularly about sustainability, but I found myself musing on the concept of “Abnormally Low Tenders”. The explanatory notes in the draft are quite clear what the concern is: (44a) Tenders that appear abnormally low in relation to the works, supplies or services might be based on technically, economically or legally unsound assumptions or practices. Where the tenderer cannot provide a sufficient explanation, the contracting authority should be entitled to reject the tender. Rejection should be mandatory in cases where the contracting authority has established that the abnormally low price or costs proposed results from non-compliance with mandatory Union legislation or national law compatible with it in the fields of social, labour or environmental law or international labour law provisions”.

In October 2008, some colleagues and I were in Brussels for a European Commission/PEPPOL session. Halfway through the morning we called our office travel agents and asked if they could book us onto earlier flights home and left. During the morning session I wrote in my diary “trying to decide between slitting my wrists or hurling myself from the window. One of the most dispiriting experiences of my life is sitting here listening to policy officers and IT staff talking rubbish and reinventing the wheel. Do our taxes pay for this nonsense? Yes they do”. Two things reminded me of this recently: the first was reading a PEPPOL Business Interoperability Specification (BIS 28A  – Ordering) which was out for review; the second was the reaction when the Draft Directive on eInvoicing managed to omit any mention of PEPPOL.

The debate on these pages on e-invoicing and interoperability has been fascinating. It was inspired by the EU’s consultation designed to solicit views in order that e-invoicing in public procurement can be stimulated and encouraged. But there’s more to this than interoperability and we think that there are three things that the EU can do to get electronic invoicing really motoring in Europe - mandate, regulate and educate.