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Here we review all of the available tools for searching for tenders in the UK and beyond. (Hey, we know we’re biased, but we think that we can still do a good job of representing the market).
OpenOpps is a free service for the UK and 76 further countries around the rest of the world, including a range of international government sources such as the World Bank. With 69% more data than Contracts Finder, OpenOpps is the best, free UK service for searching tenders. With data from around the world, OpenOpps routinely provides access to over 100,000 live business opportunities at no cost to users.
Powered by one of the most advanced search engines available and with daily email alerts, OpenOpps provides a comprehensive and detailed service for all types of business looking to win business from Government.
Our verdict: Amongst the best sites in the market free or paid (but we would say that wouldn’t we).
The Government’s own free tender search site, which was created to carry all of the tenders and contracts for the public sector in England. It aims to have all tenders over £10,000 for Central Government and tenders above £25,000 for the rest of the public sector, e.g. Local Councils. This is laudable, but sadly Contracts Finder falls some way short. Far too few tenders are published on the site; at the time of writing, there were just 1,340 open tenders on Contracts Finder, less than 30% of the total that OpenOpps features for England.
We know that it isn’t easy for Government to move quickly, and that they have to shoulder a heavy administrative burden, but this doesn’t excuse some of the troubling omissions from the site. For instance, Stoke on Trent Council have published over 1,500 tenders since 2015, but only 197 of those made it onto Contracts Finder. We’ve already written at length about missing contract award notices here. Given the resources at the Government’s disposal and the requirement under law to publish on the site, it is disappointing to see that the site is so short of data.
Our verdict: A free resource that’s sadly lacking data.
Tenders Electronic Daily
The EU’s tender portal, the backbone of the EU’s procurement legislation, requires all EU public bodies to publish tenders with a value above €130,000 on this portal (thresholds for construction are higher), ensuring that everyone in Europe is able to access tender opportunities in the 27 different EU states. The legal requirement to publish on this portal means that it is a well populated portal, but it has no smaller contracts, below the €130,000 threshold. This means that it can only be used by bidders that are certain that they never want to bid on projects below the fairly large threshold.
The site has become much more usable in recent years, for instance the search is improved, but the advanced search is still rather complicated and you need to navigate that to restrict your search to open opportunities.
Our verdict: A good free resource, but not a universal solution, due to the lack of low-value contracts.
Tenderlake is a nicely structured ‘search and alert’ tool with a significant number of tenders in the UK. It’s hard to tell how much of the market they cover, but from our own knowledge, we can tell that they’re missing a few significant sources. The search interface seems appropriate, but there’s no way to default your search to live opportunities only, so the only effective way to get recent tenders is to sign up for the email. That’s fine for some, but if you’re not on a daily hunt for tenders, it seems a bit limited.
Our verdict: A good free service that needs extra data and search functionality.
Cost: £995 per year or £300 per quarter
Tenders Direct has been running a paid aggregation service for over 15 years and have over 4,000 clients according to their website. They’re proud to boast every UK and Irish tender. The site allows you to see historic tenders and offers a fourteen day free trial, after that you have to pay. Once you’ve paid, access to the data is via their own categories of spend and they also offer a support service to help you set up your search, but customers have no capacity to update their searches, edit their searches or set up multiple searches. All of that has to be done through an account manager.
The company that owns Tenders Direct, Millstream Associates, has just been bought out by Proactis for several million pounds, it seems likely that the site will see some increased investment and new developments soon.
Our verdict: A successful paid site, with good data, lacking in search functionality.
Cost: £199 per year / £349 per year
Public Tenders is a paid tender alert service that appears to aggregate tender data from just the TED service (the EU’s portal www.ted.europa.eu) and Contracts Finder. So whilst it does feature lots of valuable data and will have many public tenders in the UK, it will have very few low-value opportunities. Given that their data is freely available on the TED website and the Contracts Finder service, it looks hard to justify the investment.
Our verdict: A serviceable site that can’t justify the fees they charge, better to use free resources.
Cost: €99 - €3,999 per year
Oppex is a paid global site with a focus on European data, boasting a large number of sub-OJEU European data sources. Pricing reflects the number of search profiles you can set up and the numbers of users you need. So the €99 plan gives you one seat license and you have to settle on just one search ‘profile’. Paying more gets you more seats and more search profiles, the total cost can top out at the eye-watering €3,999 per annum.
On the upside, there’s a no-credit card 14 day free trial, which provides access to a well structured and rich search interface, which shows that the site has had significant investment of time and money.
Our verdict: A good interface with lots of data, but it comes at a price.
Cost: £315 - £345 per annum
A UK only tender service that boasts around 23,000 live opportunities at the time of going to pixel. The site provides free access to the website and you can also receive some details of the tender opportunities in an alert email every day, but the information provided isn’t really sufficient to be able to rely on, you don’t for instance get the details of the buyer in the summaries, so the free services are really only a tempter to get you to subscribe.
Our verdict: A site with good data, but with free alternatives, it makes little sense to pay for the service.
CompeteFor / Supply
Price: £0 - £9,000
CompeteFor is, without doubt, the most confusing site in this list. Searching for tenders is hard enough, but is unnecessarily tough for users to navigate. The site is nominally, ‘a free service’ where a number of important public sector agencies publish their opportunities, including the London Borough of Harrow and Crossrail. Unfortunately the site is also a marketing site for a paid service called “Supply”, so users can find that they spend a lot of time going to conversion pages for paid services. You have to login to view any opportunities, but our browser was blocking some of the content on the site, indicating that your personal data might not be safe on the site.
The paid service provides access on an local area by local area basis, you get one free area and then pay £75 per annum for each additional area. That might be appropriate for very local firms, but it's no good for anyone with a national profile. We found 121 different areas listed on the site, covering UK and Ireland. We couldn’t find anything on bulk discounts, so we can only assume that a subscription for all areas will cost a terrifying £9,000 a year. There is no access past or present to the past data, so we weren’t able to assess the quality of the information published on the site.Our verdict: An expensive and potentially unsafe site, with a confusing interface that focuses on converting users to their paid services.