Covid-19 has shown us the importance of transparency in procurement. A transparent process allows suppliers and buyers to clearly identify each other, and set benchmarks on how others are buying and selling.
Contracts Finder has made great strides in facilitating this transparency over recent years. The Public Contracts Regulations 2015, an Act of Parliament, established the existence of Contracts Finder, a UK national portal covering predominantly England, These regulations mandate that all English tenders and contracts must be published on the Contracts Finder system. There are some exceptions to this rule, including schools, healthcare and some defence buyers, but generally Contracts Finder is the bible for UK public procurement. But is this the case in practise?
Let's start by looking at the growth over the three years between 2017 and 2019. We will then compare early 2020 and the effects of the Covid-19 emergency procurement regulations.
What a difference three years make
In 2017, there were almost 44,000 tenders and over 24,000 contracts released on Contracts Finder. In 2019 there were and almost 57,000 tenders and 33,000 contracts released. This represents an increase of almost 13,000 tenders (+30%) and 8,800 contracts (+36.5%).
Over this time, tenders have increased over 20% most months, with 5 months reporting an increase of over 30%. This is equivalent to around 1,000 new tenders each month. By 2019, the rate of publication exceeded 5,000 per month for March, April and July.
The rate of increase for contracts was at least 20% per month. Three quarters of all months increased by over 30%, and one third increased by over 45%. On average, contracts published per month has increased by 734. In 2017 there were less than 2000 contracts published per month for 7 months in the year, but by 2019 the rate of publication exceeded 2500 contracts for 10 months in the year. Three of those saw a publication rate of 3,000 a month: March, April and July, as with tenders.
Impacts made even during Covid
Despite Covid-19, the rates of publication on Contracts Finder in 2020 remains stable. Tenders showed a three month decline from March to May but contract publication was greater than in 2017 for all months to July. The rate of increase is more impressive in the months before the emergency procurement policy was passed by Cabinet Office, with 2020 showing the highest rates of publication for tenders and contracts in January and February. In fact, the increase between 2020 and 2017 was over 40% for tenders and 50% for contracts.
Emergency regulations introduced in March reduced contract and tender numbers in 2020 compared to 2019. However, we are already seeing recovery in publication. The rate of recovery has increased for tenders and contracts in July. We anticipate that Contracts Finder will return to business as usual in August, despite the extraordinary procurement requirements of a worldwide pandemic.
Contracts Finder is becoming more comprehensive, and had it not been for Covid, would have been the most comprehensive in publication history. Despite Covid, the team have been fantastic at getting the data onto Contracts Finder and making it available for everyone. Given the trends we have seen in 2020, we are optimistic that publishing rates will return to 2019 levels and maybe even exceed them.
Photo by Adrien Olichon