Common Procurement Vocabulary (CPV) codes were implemented in 1993 as a standard classification system for public tenders across Europe. The codes are eight digits long and each one has a corresponding description, intended to cover a broad range of supplies, services, and works. However, it’s guaranteed that the one code you need, you’ll never find.

There are plenty of very useful codes in the system, and there are plenty weird and wonderful codes as well. Some personal favourites include:
39293500-7         Imitation jewellery.
35410000-1         Horse or hand-drawn carts and other non-mechanically-propelled vehicles.
33000000-0         Medical and laboratory devices, optical and precision devices, watches and clocks, pharmaceuticals and related medical consumables.
03141000-1         Bulls’ semen.
18320000-8         Brassieres, corsets, suspenders and similar articles.

I mean this classification system was written for the Public Sector right? So why any Awarding authority would be putting together a tender for not just any jewellery, but imitation jewellery I am unsure. Horse or hand drawn carts, plenty of those out on the streets. The medical CPV code has always made me chuckle- where do watches and clocks fit in to that one? To be fair they did revise that one in 2008.  Now let’s take Bulls’ Semen- do I even want to know? Lastly, all those naughty undergarments being tendered in the public sector, tut tut tut. 

So there are plenty of nonsensical CPV codes as we can see, but what about those ones you really need and cannot seem to find? It wasn’t until 2008 that there was an adequate CPV code for Web Design Services. What did purchasers select instead? Computer related services? Perhaps a bit broad.

When the CPV codes were revised in 2008 many important codes were cut, very specific codes were stripped back and the structure of the supplementary vocabulary was changed to take account of this.  For example, there were 43 different CPV codes for printing and now there is just one.  The idea is that you select the main CPV code for say “Printing” and then add the appropriate supplementary code for “books”, “magazines” or whatever.  Again you can kind of see where they were going with this but in practice, it’s hopeless! No one uses these supplementary codes, which is bad for suppliers trying to locate the right tender notices because the title and CPV codes are even more vague than before the change.

CPV codes were intended to boost transparency in public procurement and make it easier for suppliers to identify business opportunities. In my opinion, all CPV codes have done is cloud over what purchasers are really looking for and flood suppliers with irrelevant notices.

2 Responses

  1. Not only is there a CPV code for bull’s semen, it also implies that a public organisation wants to buy a volume with a value of at least £90,000 (€133,000) as this is the financial threshold above which a notice must be published in the Official Journal (OJEU).

    I can only find four notices for bull semen from a total of more than 1 million published in the last 5 years. Three of these were from a local authority in Spain and one from an agricultural development agency in the UK.