What bothers suppliers most about public procurement?

16 October 2020

The top areas of complaint about public procurement from suppliers in 2019-20 were late payments and advertising of contracts, a report has found.

The Public Procurement Review Service (PPRS) Progress Report found the next three biggest areas of complaint were contract awards, evaluation, and clarification of queries in the procurement process. 

However, the PPRS said there had been a 41.4% drop in cases reported by suppliers of “potentially poor public sector procurement practice”, to 154 cases compared to 263 cases in 2018-19.

The PPRS, which sits as part of the Cabinet Office, allows government suppliers and potential suppliers to raise concerns anonymously about public sector procurement issues, including late payments. 

The PPRS classified issues into five areas – payment, procurement process, procurement strategy, technology/systems and transparency.

‘Payments’ accounted for over half (50.5%) of all closed cases in 2019-20. Proportionally, this was a significant percentage increase from 34.3% (70 cases) in 2018-19 and 13.1% (18 cases) of cases in 2017-18.

‘Procurement Process’ saw a fall in cases from 74 in 2018-19 to 35 cases in 2019-20, while ‘Strategy’ decreased to 18 cases in 2019-20 from 51 cases the previous year. 

There were two cases classified as ‘Technology/ Systems’ which related to errors in advertisements, compared to five cases in 2018-19. There were no cases classified as ‘Transparency’, compared to four the previous year.

The number of cases received for the central government represented 23.4% of the total, with the wider public sector making up 76.6%.

Top five areas of complaint received by PPRS in 2019-20

1. Payment

Concerns over payments represented just over half of cases, and “all of the cases concerned non payment of invoices”, the PPRS said. 

It unblocked almost £930,000 in late payments on behalf of suppliers over this past year.

2. Advertisement 

The majority of cases concerned the wider public sector. Complaints mainly concerned “timeframes, the process used to advertise and a perception that advertisements had been written to favour the incumbent provider”, the PPRS said. 

“Where errors or omissions were identified, the contracting authority amended the advertisement,” it said. 

3. Award 

Some cases centred on opportunities that had been applied for but the bidder had not seen notice of an outcome, while other cases were concerned about the award “not being impartial or where suppliers were concerned that an incumbent supplier had an unfair advantage”, the PPRS said. 

In upheld complaints, the PPRS shared best practice guidance with buyers and suppliers to help them understand the requirements at each stage of the procurement lifecycle. 

“We referred contracting authorities to regulation regarding debriefing obligations and the minimum requirements of information to be supplied to candidates and tenderers,” it said. 

4. Evaluation 

Concerns were raised by suppliers about how the evaluation process was run, including the evaluation criteria, how a low tender was considered and issues with the evaluation panel.

The PPRS said: “In upheld cases we recommended that authorities revised their procurement processes by reminding staff of the need to fully check the invitation to tender documents prior to publication – including a review of their internal checking and quality assurance processes.”

5. Clarification

Complaints concerned the time taken to respond to clarification questions, or no response being received.

“In upheld cases we reminded contracting authorities of allowing sufficient time between clarification and submission. We referred to regulation regarding time limits,” the PPRS said.

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