Standstill period definition
In the public sector tender process (see our Guide to Public Sector Procurement), there is a mandatory minimum time period between the notification of the contract award decision, and the contract award itself. This is known as the standstill period or Alcatel standstill period, and if a tender is following the standard public procurement rules, it lasts a minimum of 10 days and must be observed.
It is there for the benefit of all parties in the tendering process - the buyer (Commissioning Authority), and the suppliers that have submitted tenders. It helps to ensure the tender process is fair, is adhered to and allows for challenges to be made to the contract award decision, if necessary.
There are some circumstances where the standstill period does not need to be observed:
- Where there is only 1 tenderer (so no unsuccessful suppliers)
- When the contract is allowed to be awarded without publication of a contract notice – e.g. below the thresholds for advertising on Find a Tender (formerly the thresholds for advertising on OJEU)
- Call-off contracts on a DPS or framework, however, it is still recommended good practice in these cases.
For private sector tenders, the same rules on Standstill do not apply, so it is critical for potential suppliers to establish if a private sector buyer is providing a similar opportunity for review, after an initial decision and before signing a contract.
Why is this 10-day standstill period important?
Tenderers (suppliers) can challenge the decision of the Commissioning Authority in this 10-day period.
Tenderers can use this time to review the notice they received from the Commissioning Authority, informing them of the award decision. This notice (often called a standstill letter or Alcatel letter) provides feedback on the tender submitted, the supplier’s score and the buyer’s reasons for their decision (in line with their evaluation methodology). To a greater or lesser extent, feedback can also be provided on the relative advantages of the winning bid and the score for comparison.
Tenderers can ask the buyer for additional de-briefing information or for a de-briefing session to take place. If this is requested within the first 2 days of the standstill period, it must be completed 3 days prior to the end of the standstill period. A debrief is not always granted, but if your tender was unsuccessful (and even if it was the winner) it is arguably the most important stage of the whole tender process. Gathering the most comprehensive feedback you can and learning the lessons of why it fell short, will ensure your next tender is even stronger and has an even greater chance of winning.
The standstill period may be extended beyond the original 10 days if a number of additional de-briefs are required or if a complaint is made in court.
Any legal challenge of the contract award decision during the standstill period automatically suspends the contract award. Although the standstill period is 10 days long, the deadline to bring any challenges in court is 30 days.
Given the significance of a challenge (perhaps most in delaying a crucial public service), it is important for an unsuccessful tenderer to here to consider whether it is reasonable and appropriate to appeal. Simply being disgruntled with the outcome, sour grapes towards the winner, is not good cause and likely to be quickly dismissed; whereas a well-thought through argument that points to strong indicators of technical errors, discrepancies, bias, are more likely to be considered.
Alcatel was originally a French telecommunications company, since absorbed into Nokia via a number of mergers, so why is the standstill period sometimes called the Alcatel standstill period? This is simply because the standstill rules are a result of the judgement in a pair of linked European Court of Justice cases known as the Alcatel case (Alcatel Austria v Bundesministerium fuer Wissenschaft und Verkehr Case C-81/98 if you want the details).
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