The way in which Northern Ireland public sector contracts, over certain values, are awarded are governed by EU-wide rules.
In general terms, public sector organisations must put out to tender contracts for products or services that are valued at more than £111,676 and works that are valued at £4,322,012 or more. However, there are higher thresholds for some government bodies.
Contracts over the thresholds can only be awarded by the use of one of four set procedures.
With the open procedure, a contract is advertised and all interested parties are asked to return tenders by a set date. This procedure is often used by district councils.
The restricted procedure is a two-stage process. At the first stage the contract is advertised in the Official Journal of the European Communities (OJEC) and interested suppliers are asked to express an interest in the contract. The public sector body then shortlists successful parties to submit tenders.
The competitive dialogue procedure allows the buying organisation to enter into negotiation with bidders following advertising their requirements in the OJEC and carrying out a selection process. This procedure is used to help buyers define the details of their requirements.
The negotiated procedure is also a two-stage process but can only be used in very limited circumstances. At the second stage the public sector body can enter into contract negotiations with one or more suppliers.
There are also a number of special rules for EU public sector procurement. These cover areas such as centralised purchasing bodies, electronic systems for regularly purchased items and special contract rules for businesses where more than half of the workforce comprises people with disabilities.