Exclusive – Contracts Finder Analysis Suggests Most Government Tender Opportunities Aren’t There

Back in February, we wrote on the Public Spend Forum website about a new platform called Open Opps (as in “opportunities”).

The firm behind it is run by Ian Makgill, who has been involved for some years in making data about public sector spend more accessible to all.

The site collects (or ”scrapes” as the technologists say) data about available public contracts from some 300 publishers and websites all around the world. That includes public contracting authorities and also multi-national organisations like the World Bank. The focus at the moment is largely on the UK, with the US growing too. Back in February, the site contained 73,766 live opportunities from 154 countries around the world. There were 1.3 million tenders in the database at that point too.

Focusing on the UK, the Lord Young procurement reforms and indeed the Public Contracts Regulations of 2015 defined the use of the Contracts Finder tool as the single source of tender opportunities for businesses interested in selling to the public sector. The site was relaunched in March 2014 with ministerial support and the new law made it mandatory for any English public sector body to publish all major tender opportunities to the platform.

Despite the legal requirements it appears that the wider public sector prefers to remain loyal to their individual, local tender platforms rather than use Contracts Finder. New analysis by Openopps.com shows that in the past year just 27% of tenders published by Government bodies made it onto Contracts Finder and that nearly 100,000 tenders failed to make it onto the platform.

Of the tenders found by OpenOpps.com that aren't on Contracts Finder, a small percentage will be below the threshold for publication (which is £10k for Central Government and £25k for the wider public sector), so it is not possible to come to a precise figure of the number of tenders missing from Contracts Finder. But given these low thresholds, OpenOpps believe the smaller contracts represent a fairly small percentage of the total. Their estimate is  that some 6% of the documents found by OpenOpps.com were below the threshold, meaning that they believe two thirds of the data that is supposed to be on Contracts Finder is not there.

Contracts Finder remains a good resource for Central Government tenders, but it is in the wider public sector where it falls down. It is clear that many Councils and NHS Trusts have published just a handful of tenders to the site and some have never published at all.

The team running Contracts Finder would argue, quite correctly, that they can’t be held responsible for Councils and Trusts failure to comply with the law. Crown Commercial Service has plenty of things to do without trying to police every tender from every district council and health body in the country.  But with so little data on the site, it’s not unreasonable to question whether the Government plans to address what currently looks like a failure of the desired policy outcome. If Government wants to maintain a tender alert service, they need to make sure that the service meets a minimum standard, which in this case would suggest getting a lot more data onto the platform.

Openopps.com looks interesting (see our previous article with the link above) and their tool gathers all the data that is missing from Contracts Finder plus lots more from around the world, and they're a free service. They still need to demonstrate that they can deliver a paid-for product as well that funds and makes the free service sustainable, but we think that their model has the potential to change the market in a positive way. So given the shortfall in the Government's data, they might do worse than talk to Open Opps about some sort of collaboration – there might be a positive outcome there for everybody.

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