SMEs and government procurement – what did we find on Contracts FInder?

There were more announcements with a procurement flavour from the UK Cabinet Office last week. Some featured the Innovation event we discussed, and others talked about actions to encourage large suppliers to pass on 30 day payment terms down through their supply chain. Absolutely right, although the actions proposed are not radically different from what has been tried before. We need to see a large supplier lose a contract for poor payment of sub-contractors that would get a bit of attention. These were the key points:

  • Departments will monitor prime contractors performance as part of their contract management processes.
  • SMEs will be encouraged to use the 'Mystery Shopper' service to report to Government instances where payment is slipping. The results will be published on this website.
  • The Crown Representatives team, who coordinate the Government's approach to the management of key suppliers across all departments, will strongly encourage prime contractors to pay more quickly than 30 days.

Then there was more around the support for SME agenda.

  • 14 Government departments have eradicated the burdensome Pre-Qualification Questionnaire process from low value tenders.
  • The Contracts Finder website has received over a million page views and has over 16,000 registered users.

Well, we won't go on about the Open procedure now - more to come on that shortly.

But the Contracts Finder website..  I wasn’t going to criticise this yet as it is still in its relative infancy (it was launched in February), and I know how many inherent problems there are associated with getting this to work well. It is supposed to give suppliers access to all central Government contracts - and the intention was to bring in opportunities from other sectors (local authorities etc ) as well.

So it is now picking up all OJEU adverts, which is a benefit. I was talking to a supplier last week who thought that Contracts Finder was easier than using TED, the official EU site, and cheaper (it's free) than subscribing to other commercial sites that perform a similar role.

But it is as a central resource to find sub-OJEU contracts that Contracts F'inder should be most useful for SMEs, and indeed other businesses. And it’s not as yet working in this respect.

How many live sub-OJEU opportunities do you think are on there at the moment? Having played around with various searches, I'm pretty sure the answer is about 40.  That's right, across what theoretically could be all of Government, across every area of spend, there are 40 contracts.  And it’s clear that many Departments aren’t using it at all.

Extrapolating that based on a contract being "live" on the system for about a month, and an average contract value of £50,000 let's say, that gives us about £25 million worth of contracts going through the site in a year. That's just over 1% of 1% of annual public sector spend (0.013% of spend approx).

If you're still not convinced, I did the same search on the BuyWales website. There were 310 opportunities using the same search parameters (in a country one-seventeenth the size of England).  I got about 800 on the Scotland equivalent site although I’m not sure that was a precise like for like comparison.

Contracts Finder is still the right concept, but there is more to be done before it meets its objectives. So it seems a little premature to be telling us how well it's going...

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Voices (3)

  1. flog:

    Just had a look at today OJEU – there’s 59 new contract notices, and 237 published in the last 5 ‘days’.

    In Ireland the site is well established (and free to both buyers and suppliers) with opportunities over, I think it’s not €30k advertised. there’s 127 advertised over the last 5 working days with about 3/4’s being non-EU

  2. Sue Hurrell:

    In fact, last year, for the first time, the number of adverts on Sell2Wales for contracts of value below OJEU thresholds exceeded those above.

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