What Is Purdah? 

Purdah is the term used in the United Kingdom to describe the period that begins immediately after an election is announced and continues until the election is held. It is also referred to as the ‘period of heightened sensitivity’ or the ‘period of pre-election sensitivity’.  

The general principles of purdah are that during this time, governments, local authorities, ministers, and civil servants are required to adhere to specific guidelines and rules that restrict their ability to make public announcements or decisions that could influence the outcome of the election.  

What Is The Purpose of Purdah?

The primary purposes of purdah are to: 

  • maintain the impartiality and integrity of the electoral process by preventing the incumbent government from using its position to gain an unfair advantage in the forthcoming election; and
  • ensure that government and local authority resources are not used for party political campaigning.  

Purdah seeks to prevent the government and public bodies from making announcements that could sway public opinion or give undue advantage to a candidate or political party. 

What Are The Rules of Purdah?

Purdah is governed by guidance issued by the Cabinet Office to all civil servants in government departments and other public bodies. 

Ministers remain in office and in charge of their departments during purdah, but they are expected to defer any announcements on policies, contracts or senior public appointments until after the forthcoming election. 

Local authorities also face similar restrictions during this period. They must continue providing services as usual during purdah but must also ensure that decisions and actions taken do not favour any political party or candidate. This includes being cautious about policy announcements or operational decisions that could be seen as politically motivated. 

When Does Purdah Start? 

The duration of purdah is not explicitly defined in law but is governed by conventions.  

The purdah period informally begins with the announcement of an election and then officially starts when Parliament is dissolved, which is typically 25 working days before polling day.  

Purdah ends when a new government is formed, at which point the restrictions are lifted, and normal government operations resume. 

UK Parliament will be dissolved on Thursday 30 May 2024 in preparation for the 2024 General Election. 

Where Does The Term Purdah Come From and Why Do We Use It?

The term ‘purdah’ has its roots in Persian and Urdu and is also used in various South Asian languages, including Punjabi and Hindi. 

In its original cultural context and meaning the term is associated with practices aimed at preserving modesty, privacy, or honour. 

Purdah is both a noun and a verb, and refers to: 

  • a curtain or veil;
  • the practice of hiding or veiling women from men who are not immediate family members; or
  • the act of deliberately concealing a piece of information to protect someone’s reputation.  

Purdah entered the English language in the late 20th century when it became a metaphor used to describe the period of pre-election silence in the UK, suggesting a ‘veiling’ or ‘curtaining’ of government activity from public scrutiny or political leveraging during the pre-election period. 

Do General Elections and Purdah Impact Public Procurement? 

In short, yes. Even though purdah only applies to government and public bodies, it can still have an impact on business. 

Public procurement refers to the process by which government departments or agencies purchase goods, or services from businesses. This process is often subject to strict rules and regulations to ensure transparency, fairness, and value for money. During the period of purdah, these rules and regulations can become even more stringent making it even harder for companies to win contracts.  

As explained above, the purpose of purdah is to prevent the existing government from influencing the outcome of the election. Even though the rules of purdah aren’t enforceable by law, the government and public bodies will endeavour to avoid accusations that their actions or decisions influenced, or attempted to influence, the outcome of the election. 

How Does Purdah Impact Procurement? 

The data is quite interesting. Tussell’s platform shows that following the announcement of the last three UK general elections, the volume of new tenders published by the Central Government and NHS contracting authorities declined or stagnated but the volume published by Local Government actually increased. 

So, what’s going on? 

  • Central Government procurement is most likely to be closely tied to a political agenda and so it makes sense that purdah most impacts the announcement, evaluation and award of these politically charged government contracts. For these more contentious tenders, public sector organisations and government bodies commonly: 
    • halt or delay publishing announcements of Invitations to Tender (ITT) for new contracts, major contract extensions, re-tendering, or terminations until after the election period; 
    • defer awarding existing tenders until after the election to avoid accusations of partiality and politically motivated decision making; and 
    • impose extended stand-still periods, withdraw ITTs and repeatedly amend tender submission deadlines. 
  • Local Government procurement, however, is further removed from political agendas and has more to do with the delivery of day-to-day services. So, for these less controversial contracts, procurement will still continue or even increase. But, the heightened focus on transparency and fairness during purdah can lead to more rigorous evaluations and a more cautious approach during these Local Authority procurement processes. 

The bottom line? Expect and prepare for delays.  

What Happens After The Election?

It all depends on which party gets elected and whether there is a change in government. 

If there is a change in government, some more politically charged tenders relating to the priorities of the former government may be re-run from scratch with new specifications and others may disappear completely. 

When a new party comes into power, they commonly announce a raft of new policies, programmes and spending plans that undoubtedly result in a wave of new tender announcements.  

Election manifestos can provide a clue for what might happen. Labour’s ‘First Steps for Change’ sets out a series of commitments aimed at transforming the UK including:

  • delivering Economic Stability;
  • cutting NHS Waiting Times;
  • launching a new Border Security Command;
  • setting up Great British Energy (with its HQ in Scotland);
  • cracking down on Anti-Social Behaviour; and
  • recruiting 6500 new teachers.   

Based on the above it would be reasonable to assume that if Labour gets elected there will be a large volume of procurement relating to recruitment, healthcare staffing, energy provision, specialist investigation services and youth employment programmes. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

How To Make The Most of Purdah

In the world of bids and tenders, purdah can, at best, result in delays and disruption and at worst, result in weeks of doing nothing.    

Purdah is a brilliant time to implement AutogenAI’s Generative AI solution and equip your team with a tool that will allow them to write more high-quality, winning bids, tenders and proposals faster than ever. 

Our world class engineers have dedicated over 50,000 hours to building software that allows bid writers to securely harness the power of their existing knowledge libraries, all information published on the internet, and the latest advances in Generative AI. Now your bid writing team can get to a first draft bid in minutes rather than days or weeks. 

AutogenAI’s Language Engines allow bid teams to extract tender requirements, project manage, storyboard, mind-map, locate evidence and statistics, and perform a swathe of sophisticated text transformations to generate winning text with ease. 

Our clients are experiencing significant increases in bid-team efficiency and win rates. One Skills and Training Provider Client submitted a record number of bids and saw revenues from successful bids more than double in just 10 months.  

They attribute that success to AutogenAI. 

We can build you your custom Language Engine, train it in your company’s tone of voice, and onboard all your bid writers in a matter of days. 

That means that when purdah ends, and the new administration is ready to roll out its manifesto promises, you are poised to capture as much of that new business as possible.  

To learn more about AutogenAI and how we can help you transform your bid and proposal writing process, contact us today.