The government has directed the public sector to keep paying their contractors and suppliers, even if work is disturbed or temporarily suspended during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The new Procurement Policy Note (PPN 02/20) sets out information and guidance for public bodies on payment of their suppliers to ensure service continuity during and after the current coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak.
The directive has been issued with immediate effect, and runs until at least 30 June 2020.
Contracting authorities must act now to ensure suppliers at risk are in a position to resume normal contract delivery once the outbreak is over.
All contracting authorities should:
- Urgently review their contract portfolio and inform suppliers who they believe are at risk that they will continue to be paid as normal (even if service delivery is disrupted or temporarily suspended) until at least the end of June.
- Put in place the most appropriate payment measures to support supplier cash flow; this might include a range of approaches such as forward ordering, payment in advance/prepayment, interim payments and payment on order (not receipt).
- If the contract involves payment by results then payment should be on the basis of previous invoices, for example the average monthly payment over the previous three months.
- To qualify, suppliers should agree to act on an open book basis and make cost data available to the contracting authority during this period. They should continue to pay employees and flow down funding to their subcontractors.
- Ensure invoices submitted by suppliers are paid immediately on receipt (reconciliation can take place in slower time) in order to maintain cash flow in the supply chain and protect jobs.
The new PPN directive is applicable to all contracting authorities, including central government departments, executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies, local authorities, NHS bodies and the wider public sector (excluding Devolved Administrations).
Cabinet Office officials summarising the PPN said: “The current outbreak of COVID-19 is unprecedented and will have a significant impact on businesses of all sizes. Many suppliers to public bodies will struggle to meet their contractual obligations and this will put their financial viability, ability to retain staff and their supply chains at risk.
“Contracting authorities should act now to support suppliers at risk so they are better able to cope with the current crises and to resume normal service delivery and fulfil their contractual obligations when the outbreak is over.
“It is vital that contracting authorities pay all suppliers as quickly as possible to maintain cash flow and protect jobs. Contracting authorities should also take action to continue to pay suppliers at risk due to COVID-19 on a continuity and retention basis. Contracting authorities can consider making advance payments to suppliers if necessary.
“Contracting authorities should aim to work with suppliers and, if appropriate, provide relief against their current contractual terms (for example relief on KPIs and service credits) to maintain business and service continuity rather than accept claims for other forms of contractual relief, such as force majeure.”