Procurement in an Emergency Handbook

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lead up to the end of the Brexit transition period saw, what must be, an unprecedented number of urgent procurements and direct awards in 2020.

The procurement team at Sharpe Pritchard have published a handbook on procuring in an emergency, aimed at providing practical guidance for contracting authorities who have an emergency procurement requirement.

The handbook follows hot on the heels of a National Audit Office (NAO) report into government procurement during the pandemic. It provides a clear, concise and easily readable guide to procuring in an emergency.

The NAO report

The NAO report – Investigation into government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic – underlines the sheer value and scale of government procurement exercises following the outbreak of COVID-19. By 31 July 2020, over 8,600 government contracts had been awarded valuing more than £18 billion. The vast majority of those contracts were awarded by the Department of Health & Social Care as it urgently sought to source sufficient amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) to cater for the exponential increase in demand.

The NAO found that many of these contracts were let via direct award. Those with experience of the procurement process will recognise that awarding contracts in this manner, especially in an emergency situation, inevitably increases the level of risk. The NAO’s investigators found that government departments made errors, including not providing sufficient documentation and explanation relating to decisions made; awarding contracts retrospectively after work had already been carried out; and not publishing contracts in a timely manner.

The government’s response to the NAO report is available here:

The Sharpe Pritchard Handbook

The Sharpe Pritchard handbook aims to recognise learn lessons from 2020 and the matters raised in the NAO report and guide contracting authorities through the emergency procurement process.

The handbook sets out the procurement rules, latest government guidance, and brings together a range of relevant material, practical advice and answers to frequently asked questions on urgent procurement. The handbook starts with a suggested route map for consideration when looking to run a public procurement under urgent and pressing timescales and provides options depending on your needs and requirements.

To ensure compliance with procurement rules and to address lessons drawn from the NAO report, we recommend that contracting authorities have the handbook to hand for use in the event you have to run an emergency procurement exercise in the coming weeks and months. For an electronic copy of the handbook, please submit your request to, providing your name and contact details.

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Our team

We advise contracting authorities on all manner of issues relating to public procurement and our experts are on hand to advise on specific queries relating to your emergency or urgent procurement needs or to advise on any other procurement related issues.

This article is for general awareness only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this page was first published. If you would like further advice and assistance in relation to any of the issues raised in this article, please contact us today by telephone or email

Posted in Central Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19), Emergency services, Local government, Procurement, Procurement challenges.