SCOTLAND’S architects, designers, engineers and other professionals who currently ply their trade across Europe will face a devastating loss after a hard Brexit, unless the UK Government can do a deal to preserve their access to the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) and the European Single Procurement Directive systems (ESPD).
It is probably only the professions who know about the OJEU and ESPD – politicians avoid talking about them at all, fearing the public will not understand such complex matters. You won’t find much about them in White Papers, for instance.
Yet the OJEU and ESPD are two of the most important mechanisms of the single market. And here’s the rub – the country that fought hardest to bring them in was the UK.
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After a hard Brexit there would be no guarantee of access to the systems, which ensure fair access and competition under European public procurement rules to a market worth nearly £400 billion a year.
All public contracts, even those that are private initiatives but involve public money, and which are issued by governments or local authorities in member states, must be advertised via the OJEU.
For public building works, the threshold above which contracts must be advertised is £4.5m, while government contracts for services such as designing buildings worth more than £120,000 must also be advertised in the OJEU.
It’s a huge market – on average 1,700 new public procurement notices are published every day in the digital version of the journal, known as Tenders Electronic Daily.
It also means that companies in the EU can bid for contracts here, hence Dutch firm Abellio winning Scotrail. One procurement expert yesterday told The National Abellio “have been unfairly pilloried because they inherited a rotten rail system".
The ESPD governs how procurement is progressed, and the first country in the EU to adopt the directive was Scotland, shortly after the EU referendum last year – the preparatory work for adopting the ESPD had gone on for months, it should be said.
So important is the OJEU that Norway and Switzerland, which are outside the EU, both pay hefty fees to be part of it. It remains to be seen whether the UK Government will do that, and if hard Brexit insists that Scotland is not involved the results could be disastrous.
One sector in Scotland that has thrived under the OJEU/ESPD system is architecture.
Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, explained: “We have worked in the OJEU system for years and have recently had to take the extremely complex ESPD on board.
“If there is a hard Brexit and we do not have access to these systems, it will effectively exclude Scottish professionals like architects and designers from public contracts across Europe.
“It’s not just about architects – all sorts of consultants would be excluded from a breadth of European opportunities, which many Scottish professionals have managed to secure over the years.
“Many Scots architects, for example, have undertaken major projects across Europe and would be denied those opportunities under a hard Brexit.
“It’s frustrating as Scotland was the first adopter of the ESPD and that gives us an advantage, as it has been tweaked to be workable under Scots law.”
Baxter added: “We get a lot of Europeans doing good work in Scotland and a lot of Scots doing good work in Europe, and it’s a generous system in opening up availability of opportunities.
“It has also been hugely beneficial in the sharing of skills and experience across Europe, and it has helped to stop corruption and fraud so it’s a good and sensible regime.”
Some experts say that UK-based professionals will be able to carry on bidding for work after Brexit as the EU-UK deal will be done, but that is not guaranteed.
“Who knows?” said Baxter.
“I suspect even Theresa May doesn’t know, but a hard Brexit will mean trade tariffs for certain.
“The Swiss have paid to be part of the system, and perhaps that is the way we will go, but at the moment, we just do not know.”