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Public Authorities in 2015: Four key legal updates you need to know
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Public Authorities in 2015: Four key legal updates you need to know

2015 looks to be an eventful year with royal baby number 2 on the way, London hosting the Rugby World Cup 2015 and the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta. 2015 will also be a year of change for the public sector. This article discusses what to expect in several areas of public sector law in 2015.

General Election 2015

For the first time in British history, the date of the next general election is universal knowledge. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 fixed the date at 7 May 2015 and the first May every fifth year thereafter.

The election timetable has confirmed the period of purdah will be the longest in history, commencing when Parliament is dissolved on 30 March 2014. The post-election purdah period is approximately two weeks but could be extended in the event of a hung Parliament, a potential outcome in 2015. During this period, public bodies will refrain from making policy announcements or making or signing major decisions and agreements.

Local authorities will gear up for signing contracts before the 30 March 2015 in the knowledge that there will be a 7-10 week delay and if there is central government's involvement in the agreements could be affected by the outcome of the election.

Public Contracts Regulations 2015

The Public Contracts Regulations are expected to come into force this spring.  The Regulations will transpose the Public Procurement Directive 2014/24/EU on public sector contracts into UK national law and repeal the Public Contracts Regulations 2006.  The year will also bring Regulations for the utilities sector and the eagerly awaited Concessions Regulations which will for the first time govern services concessions agreements. 

For more information see previous blog entries or do contact us for a free copy of our booklet providing guidance on the new EU procurement rules.

National devolution - "Northern Powerhouse"

Following the historic Scottish independence referendum in 2014, there has been a move towards greater devolution. In Northern England, Greater Manchester will become the first city outside of London to have a regional mayor.

After secondary legislation is published in March 2015, the combined authority leaders will elect an interim mayor until a mayor is directly elected in 2017 (if the Conservatives remain in government).The interim mayor will have no executive powers but the directly elected mayor will have wide ranging powers over transport, housing, planning, health, policing and the economy as well the responsibilities of police and crime commissioner.

The devolved powers are hoped to act as a catalyst for regeneration and will likely set the precedent for a new local government leadership model in 2015 and beyond. There has already been talk of Birmingham and Liverpool appointing a "City mayor" and in light of the recent easing of rules on forming combined authorities the model could be set to spread elsewhere in the UK.

Freedom of Information

The Ministry of Justice has announced that it will issue an updated code of practice under section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) before the general election 2015. The code will promote transparency over contracts with private companies and specify stricter time limits for applying the public interest test and for reviewing FOIA decisions.

The Code may vary the practices which public authorities should follow when dealing with requests for information under the Act as part of wider measures to extend the scope of the FOIA throughout 2015. For more information see previous blog entry 'Changes to a public authority's obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.'

Watch this space throughout 2015 for more news and comment of these highlights as they happen.

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