Tendering procedures can be time-consuming, stressful and difficult to navigate for both purchasers in the public sector and private companies seeking business opportunities, writes Duncan Dallas, Millstream’s head of procurement portals.

However, with many European governments and public authorities now handling procurement electronically to save time and comply with the latest EU legislation, national procurement portals have helped to standardise tendering processes into one much simpler online system.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own dedicated public sector procurement websites, while Contracts Finder is the UK Government’s equivalent.

Duncan Dallas, Head of Portals at Millstream Associates
Duncan Dallas, Head of Procurement Portals at Millstream

Publishing all available opportunities in one place means it is much easier for businesses to find suitable tenders.

Indeed, recent figures released in Scotland alone show that more small businesses than ever before are securing public contracts through Public Contracts Scotland, with 80 per cent of 13,308 suppliers awarded contracts through the online portal in 2012 being based north of the border.

Portals simplify the creation and management of the tender documentation required by EU and UK regulations, which means that contracting authorities must adhere to transparent, non-discriminatory and proportional principles when purchasing goods and services, and they must also advertise all contracts above a certain value in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

As the only company providing national public procurement websites for several European member states, Millstream has operated the national procurement portal for Norway for the past seven years and the Public Contracts Scotland portal for the past five years, on behalf of the Scottish Government. We also provided the Irish Government’s eTenders website from 2003 until 2012 and have just started work with the Welsh Government.

A considerable amount of our time is spent planning and implementing developments to our portals. This involves understanding the client’s needs, translating them into actions for our development team and ensuring the finished product is suitable for release.

Eventually all procurement processes will be conducted entirely online. Every opportunity that arises for new business for us seems to require more functionality than the last, which means we need to keep working to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible for both buyers and suppliers.

We are therefore always working to improve the functions of our websites to make them easier for public sector authorities to advertise opportunities for tenders, and for private sector businesses to be kept updated on relevant contracts.

We take great satisfaction from seeing a new function through from inception to release in the live domain, such as Supplier Finder, which is a supplier sourcing directory tied into our request for quotation facility.

This allows buyers to search for and select suppliers to bid on lower value requirements which do not need to be published in the public domain. In the past this would have been done by post or online.

However, while online advertising of public sector opportunities is great for transparency and ease of access, it also means that local suppliers in the UK may be outbid by competition from anywhere in the world.

Spending public money on the best bid is good for the taxpayer but this could come at a cost to local businesses unless they make sure that their bids are as good as, or better, than the competition.

Public procurement regulations are passed down from the EU and among other things are designed to open up the market across Europe.

Local suppliers do nearly always have an advantage, as they know the business environment, don’t have transport costs and so on, but external competition helps to keep standards moving forwards.

Occasionally this will mean that a supplier from somewhere else will win a contract, a complaint we hear a lot, but equally UK suppliers want to sell their products and services abroad, so to a large degree it’s inevitable.

• Millstream runs the Tenders Direct website, which provides private companies with comprehensive information on new business opportunities from the public sector. It also runs myTenders, a tender publication and management service used by more than 700 public organisations in the UK to submit fully compliant contract notices to the OJEU and Contracts Finder. For more information, visit http://www.millstream.eu

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