Public procurement data needs work.

December 17, 2020
Data, Procurement

Government data is much like infrastructure, valuable when it is cared for, troublesome when it is left unloved.

Government spends nearly £400bn a year with suppliers, but most of this data is only available to the buyers and their suppliers. This is fine for managing individual contracts, but it is no good if you want to manage public procurement as a whole. When Carillion collapsed, just 28 of their 405 public sector contracts had been published, it took weeks to identify all of these contracts, making the task of handling the fallout that much harder.

If we need this data to manage procurement, we certainly need it to reform it. Consider what could be achieved with good analysis; what if you could know that a given supplier routinely exceeded budgets by 10%? What if you could predict demand for services? What if you could spot fraud and collusion more easily? What if you could identify the best sub-contractors for a contract, or predict that a tender will get just one bid? All of this is already possible today, but only if we have good data.

What data do we have?

We gather data on tender notices (adverts detailing government requirements), contract notices (follow up notices detailing which supplier won) and spend data (the bank statements of Government), however, coverage of this data is patchy and only very small amounts of this data links together. That means we don’t know who won a specific contract, or whether spending on a contract exceeds the budget for that contract.

We know, for instance, that UK tender data alone is published on over 160 different sites and that over 70% of public sector tenders in England never make it onto Contracts Finder. Once tenders are in Contracts Finder, the chance of finding out who won the contract is not much better than fifty-fifty. If a tender document never made it onto Contracts Finder, then the chance of knowing who won the contract are much less.

How good is it?

There’s also a raft of quality problems with the data, just 4.5% of tenders are published with an estimated price or budget, and more than 86% of the contracts we’ve gathered don’t feature an end date. So even when the data is available, you can’t see whether the price has reduced, and we’re denying suppliers the information they need to plan future bids.

Actually, let’s take a step back, it is still too hard to know precisely who is involved in contracts. Publishers frequently use different names and acronyms for their organisation, so it isn’t always clear who the buyer is and we still haven’t come up with a comprehensive list of public bodies, so we can’t link contracts and spending to budgets or even group activity into sectors, without lots of manual work. The same is true of suppliers, who are often given incorrect names, brand names or even project names.

This isn’t a conspiracy to hide information, it’s just poor data hygiene and a failure to recognise the value of good data. Although the cause of this is minor, the impact is significant: we don’t gather all the data, when we do gather the data, it is incomplete and we can’t always make sense of the data when we do get it.

Is the data used well?

There is also the question about whether the data is being used to its full potential. From what we can tell, the data is mostly being used to identify potential framework contracts and to aggregate spend. This work is a normal feature of strategic procurement, but far too little effort is going on monitoring the health of our markets or whether or not a contract delivered good outcomes.

Competition is a critical feature of value for money, and more bids has been proven to deliver cost savings, but more than one in five public (22%) tenders in the UK receives just one bid. Fewer bids means less competition and more cost, but trying to reduce single bid tenders isn’t featured in any policies or procurement performance indicators.

The potential

With good data we could predict poor performance, bad tendering and new savings opportunities. We could monitor market efficiency and look for new suppliers to increase competition.

We could do more to understand the actual risks associated with contracting and use appropriate risk measures, rather than over-protective measures that stifle innovation or lackadaisical ones that underestimate the impact of failure.

With nearly £400bn at stake, small margins can have big impacts, the primary focus of procurement has been to squeeze costs, but too little effort as gone into monitoring the outcomes from contracts. Because we don’t yet measure whether our contracts have been successful or not, we’re not always sure that we’re buying the right thing in the first place. This is where real savings can come from: using data to show what works and then buying to succeed.

Modern statistical analysis techniques have transformed finance, sport and agriculture; it is time for Government to look again at procurement, to gather better data and use it to deliver better services and better value for its citizens.

Spend Network are a data analysis firm specialising in public procurement, they maintain a global database of public procurement documents, including all published spending and contracts in the UK.

January 25, 2023

Mixing Politics & Procurement.

The need for administrations to act at pace is often at odds with the processes and procedures needed for good procurement. If...
January 24, 2023

Improve Your Exporting With Government Data

Government procurement data can be a valuable resource for export agencies looking to expand their business and identify new opportunities in foreign...
January 18, 2023

Waiting For A Tsunami Of Text

In a world where text can be generated by an algorithm for negligible costs, we have to rethink how we value the...
January 17, 2023

Cleaning Up On Cleaning Contracts

Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory, is home to the nations houses of parliament and a large swathe of public sector. Transparency...
January 11, 2023

New Procurement Bill Progresses Through Parliament

The proposed new Procurement Bill passed its second reading without division in the House of Commons yesterday, with the Government proposing the...
January 10, 2023

How Government Procurement Data Can Help Export Agencies

Government procurement data, the information on what goods and services government entities purchase in different markets, is an extremely valuable, and often...
January 5, 2023

Government On Covid 19 Contracts

The government has published a document, providing further information about the procurement of critical testing equipment and services during the early months...
January 3, 2023

Global Analysis: Less Is Less

Analysing 7.5 million tender documents published by governments around the world has revealed a worrying trend of publishers providing less data for...
December 1, 2022

Using Data To Build A Supply Chain

All data has a provenance. It comes from somewhere. Someone created it. Maybe it came from a sensor, or it was created...
December 1, 2022

Get Your Data Sorted.

We collect tens of thousands of documents every day. We visit more than 700 sources to collect this data. That's what our...
December 1, 2022

The Importance of Government Procurement Data for Export Agencies

There are a number of ways that government procurement data can help export agencies, including: Identifying New Markets - By understanding what...
December 1, 2022

Lord’s Have Their Say On Procurement Bill

The proposed changes to the Procurement Bill are on their third reading in the House of Lords. Last week the House of...
December 14, 2022

Buyers who stole Christmas (again)

It’s time to shed a festive tear and feel some sympathy for all the bidding teams who’ve got bids to respond to...
December 1, 2022

How Government Procurement Data Can Help Export Agencies.

If you’re in the business of exporting, you know that the global market can be a tough one to crack. In order...
December 1, 2022

EU’s Ruling On Beneficial Ownership

Last week, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that public access to registries showing personal details about companies'...

Newsletter

Compelling research, insights and data directly into your inbox.

Recent media stories

Search