Completing Tenders - Analysis of Contracts Finder

Completing Tenders - Analysis of Contracts Finder

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When the new Contracts Finder was launched in February 2015, public sector buyers in England and Wales were required to publish all tenders opportunity notices worth over £25,000. Central government departments and its agencies are required to publish opportunities over £10,000.  The opportunities are in every category including construction, recruitment and ICT. Once the buyers have received bids and awarded a contract, buyers are required to publish details of the contract award.

In our previous blog, we outlined the importance of good procurement data. Despite the significance of contract award notices, many buyers do not publish them. From our database of information published to Contracts Finder, we have been able to review all the tender opportunities in the Contracts Finder database. We cross referenced all of the tender opportunities that were over 300 days old with the award notices to see if how many opportunities had matching contract award notices as of the date of our research. We determined that tenders that were linked to an award notice were complete and all tenders without a corresponding award notice to be incomplete.

On average, central government departments had 23% of tenders incomplete. For example, Department for Education has issued 70 tenders and just 43 contract awards (39% incomplete) and the Department of Health has issued 101 tenders and only 33 contract awards (67% incomplete). The better performers were FCO Services and the Department for Transport. FCO Services has issued 187  tender opportunities on Contracts Finder, but published 186 contract awards (only 0.5% incomplete). The Department for Transport has published 97 tender opportunities and 94 are complete (4% incomplete).

The department with the most tenders was the Ministry of Defence with 549 published and 25% incomplete, performing slightly worse than the average of 23%. The department with the highest percentage of complete tenders was HM Treasury, where every one of the seven tenders they issued had a contract award notice. The Crown Commercial Service, the body responsible for Contracts Finder had used the service 969 times and published 850 contract award notices (12% incomplete).

This trend of leaving tenders incomplete is less greater in local government where, on average 65% of the notices are incomplete. According to our analysis, 114 local government publishers of tender notices have never published a contract award notice, whilst only 37 local government publishers had published all of their contract awards notices, and 17 of these had published just one tender notice and one contract award. Clearly, the lack of contract award notices is not the only issue, low publishing numbers are also a problem. For example, Cambridgeshire County Council managed to publish just five tenders into Contracts Finder, when they’ve managed to publish 173 tender notices elsewhere since January this year.

Of the local authorities that have published a significant number of notices through Contracts Finder, Derbyshire County Council has published 116 tender opportunities and just 16 contract awards (86% incomplete). Alternatively, Leeds City Council has the largest number of tender opportunities and one of the largest percentages of complete tenders: of the 235 tender opportunities they published, 214 contract awards were published, meaning just 9% of tenders were incomplete. By contrast, Sandwell has published 86 notices but only no contract awards (100% incomplete). There is no identifiable correlation between volume of tender notices the number of contract award notices.

We were unable to link poor publishing to any particular size of organisation so budget doesn’t seem to be a factor. In sectoral terms Central Government performed better than health and local government, but again, there’s no clarity of whether certain types of organisations are more likely to publish well.

The most likely explanation for good publishing is that the staff in the organisation have better understood the need to publish on Contracts Finder and have found the determination to do so. Those who fail to publish their original tenders and the subsequent contract award notices are, in all likelihood, simply not doing the work, perhaps due to not understanding the requirements or preferring to believe that no one is monitoring the data to spot poor publication practices. If the latter is the case, then perhaps it is time for the Government to ask the Crown Commercial Service to start monitoring publication rates. The plain truth is that publishing to Contracts Finder is a requirement under law and whilst public bodies shouldn't need to be policed or cajoled into compliance, the current state of publishing is so poor that some monitoring may need to be introduced if the Government is to deliver the promise of truly transparent procurement.



Methodology

This research was undertaken on 8th of August 2016 and rerun on the 22nd of September using the same dates as the original research with improved matching between tenders and contract awards in Contracts Finder. We counted the number of tenders that were published more than 300 days before the initial research,  The count of contract award notices was based on the number of award notices that used an ID number from our list of tenders that were over 300 days old.

We then grouped this data by the buyer names, providing a list of buyers and the number of tenders and the number of contract awards. The Contracts Finder database has no entries that specify that a tender has been withdrawn, so we have assumed that none of the tenders were in fact withdrawn.

The buyer name listing is inconsistent with multiple references to the same bodies, for example DECC uses the following names in Contracts Finder:  DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE, DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY AN CLIMATE CHANGE, DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE and DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE (DECC). To overcome this problem we used a k-means clustering algorithm followed by a near neighbour analyser, as well as some manual grouping of strings to bring many of the records together. Our work is not comprehensive, but we have reduced the list from 2,833 unique strings to a list of just 1,660 buyer names.

We’ve published a sample of our findings below, if you’d like to see all of the data behind our analysis, please get in touch.


Buyer

All notices

Complete

Incomplete

Incomplete (%)

BASINGSTOKE AND DEANE BOROUGH COUNCIL

5

1

4

80%

BEDFORD BOROUGH COUNCIL

6

3

3

50%

BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL

33

6

27

82%

BOROUGH OF POOLE

4

1

3

75%

BRIGHTON & HOVE CITY COUNCIL

5

3

2

40%

CAMBRIDGESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL

5

3

2

40%

CITY OF LONDON CORPORATION

5

1

4

80%

CORNWALL COUNCIL

48

19

29

60%

CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE

12

11

1

8%

DEPT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD & RURAL AFFAIRS

307

219

88

29%

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

101

33

68

67%

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL

95

51

44

46%

DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL

165

85

80

48%

FOREIGN & COMMONWEALTH OFFICE

49

34

15

31%

GLOUCESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL

13

3

10

77%

HEALTH AND SAFETY EXECUTIVE

38

37

1

3%

HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE INFORMATION CENTRE (NHS Digital)

97

94

3

3%

IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL

12

8

4

33%

LAMBETH COUNCIL

67

0

67

100%

LEICESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL

56

26

30

54%

LONDON BOROUGH OF BEXLEY

9

0

9

100%

LONDON BOROUGH OF MERTON

11

2

9

82%

LONDON BOROUGH OF NEWHAM

17

2

15

88%

LONDON BOROUGH OF REDBRIDGE

22

6

16

73%

MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

549

413

136

25%

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

234

214

20

9%

NATIONAL ARCHIVES PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE

20

18

2

10%

SANDWELL METROPOLITAN BOROUGH COUNCIL

86

0

86

100%

SOMERSET COUNTY COUNCIL

15

1

14

93%

SOUTH GLOUCESTERSHIRE COUNCIL

3

0

3

100%

SOUTHAMPTON CITY COUNCIL

32

19

13

41%

THE PENSIONS REGULATOR

3

2

1

33%

TORBAY COUNCIL

19

3

16

84%

WEALDEN DISTRICT COUNCIL

6

5

1

17%




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