Empty Fishing Lakes.

Empty Fishing Lakes.

May 24, 2022

We’ve written before about frameworks, but some improved analysis from our brilliant data team made us think it was time to revisit the issue.

Using frameworks should lead to fewer tenders and more efficiency, but if there are too many, the promised efficiency improvements never materialise and suppliers can end up bidding into a tender that has no business behind it. Also known as the empty fishing lake problem, where a supplier spends time and money getting onto a framework but is never invited to bid for a contract.

This creates a dilemma for the supplier. Not bidding means never being able to win any of the subsequent contract opportunities, but bidding into an empty framework means wasting money on bids that will deliver no revenue.

Our data shows that the UK may well be seeing too many frameworks in place. Over 7% of the 60,000 tenders we let in the last two years were frameworks. Whilst that doesn’t seem overwhelming, there are some worrying concentrations of frameworks. Of the 150 tenders for Construction Consultancy Services, 78 were frameworks. Whilst Legal advisory services and Engineering design services saw more than 150 frameworks let in the last two years.

Across different types of consultancy we found 10,000 tenders in the last 24 months, but nearly 900 frameworks. Some frameworks include hundreds of suppliers, others are more modest, but the strong implication is that there simply isn’t enough business being commissioned to sustain this number of frameworks.

The obvious answer is for government to monitor these contracts, but problems are compounded by the lack of data. There is no formal way to identify frameworks (we have to estimate) and there’s no way to know how much spend went through individual frameworks. This leaves suppliers without critical information, they just have to hope that they’re not spending time trying to get a fishing license for an empty fishing lake.

Governments could greatly assist suppliers trying to compete for public contracts by doing something to tackle this issue. They could start by publishing more data on frameworks, for instance showing whether similar frameworks already exist for a given category, whether those frameworks have business going through them, and details of how competitive a framework is.

That would be enough to greatly improve suppliers’ experience of trying to win public sector business, which is hard enough without having to fish empty lakes.

Get in touch with us, to discuss our government procurement data, our API, or our research capabilities.

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