Errors in public sector contract notices could see legal challenges from suppliers

22 November 2014

Mistakes in the way goods and services are procured in the public sector are putting organisations at risk of fines and legal fees.

A survey by consultants Achilles of the notices of contracts worth over £172,514 – the threshold at which contracting authorities are required to publish on the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) – found that two-thirds of public bodies were at risk of legal challenge.

The notices outline details of contracts and opportunities in an online form to ensure the procurement process is fair and transparent.

Of the 25 notices Achilles picked at random, 24 contained errors, and across 500 fields, 20 per cent of all information provided was wrong or misleading.

This included wrongly classified opportunities, insufficient detail about the nature of a contract, failures to recognise opportunities which are open to bidders outside the European Union and failures to shortlist the mandated number of contractors.

These errors leave public sector organisations open to fines and court challenges from suppliers at a time of pressure on budgets, according to Achilles.

“Due to the complexity of EU procurement regulations, the public sector has shown a lack of understanding of the existing rules which have been in existence for nearly 10 years,” said Emily Strange, who works in Achilles’ EU Services team. “This makes authorities vulnerable to legal challenge.”

The UK is in the process of implementing the new EU procurement directives, which include updated OJEU forms with changes to the information required in notices.

Referring to the UK's target implementation date, Strange said the risk of legal challenge could be “heightened further" when the rules change in early 2015.

“Knowledge is power and we would urge authorities to protect themselves now by getting training and advice on how to complete OJEU tenders and comply with EU procurement regulations ahead of the changes,” she added.

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