Contracts Finder – Friend or foe?
Posted by Line Olsen on March 23, 2015
- What is Contracts Finder?
- Why do Contracting Authorities in England have to publish on Contracts Finder?
- How do you publish to Contracts Finder?
Have you asked yourself any of these questions? This short blog will provide the answers.
About Contracts Finder:
Contracts Finder was first launched in 2011 by the Prime Minister as an online tool displaying the details of public contract opportunities and contracts above £10,000. The launch was a step by the government towards creating a more transparent system that removes obstacles and provides better access to contract opportunities for small businesses.
With the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 coming into force in the UK on the 26th of February, a BETA version of the new Contracts Finder was launched. It is intended that the new Contracts Finder along with the reforms recommended by the Lord Young’s report, introduced within part four of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 is the governments next step in providing smaller businesses (SME’s) and voluntary or charitable organisations (VCSEs) with easier access to public contract opportunities and improve transparency.
Why Contracting Authorities in England have to publish on Contracts Finder:
To make public contract opportunities more accessible to SME’s and VCSEs, part four of the 2015 Public Contracts Regulations introduces obligations for contracting authorities to publish both National Notices and OJEU notices to Contracts Finder. Where there has always been OJEU thresholds, the 2015 Public Contracts Regulations now provides clear national thresholds as well (Regulation 109), £10,000 for Central Government and £25,000 for sub-central governments and NHS Trusts.
Some of these obligations that will most affect contracting authorities include:
- Procurement opportunities must be published on Contracts Finder (Regulation 106 and Regulation 110).
- Contracting authorities must offer suppliers free and unrestricted direct access to any relevant contract documents via the internet (Regulation 53 and 110).
There is no doubt that there are potential benefits. The more opportunities that make it out into the public domain, the greater the chances for all companies to participate in the competition. And if there is more competition then contracting authorities can achieve better value for money. The Scottish and Welsh national government portals Public Contracts Scotland and Sell2Wales both show success stories to back this up.
The Scottish and Welsh national government portals work as a one stop portal for public opportunities, allowing contracting authorities to provide electronic access to documents, electronic submission of responses and forwards the notices for publication in OJEU where required by the regulations. Contracts Finder does not currently offer all of these facilities.
As discussed above, not only is there an obligation to publish non-OJEU notices to Contracts Finder there is now an obligation to have all OJEU notices also advertised on Contracts Finder. However, Contracts Finder is not an official OJEU eSender and cannot forward notices for you. This means that, in addition to your usual means of publication, you now have to first publish your OJEU notices to TED and then publish the notice on Contracts Finder.
Except for uploading documents, Contracts Finder does not offer any additional tools for contracting authorities. Consequently this makes Contracts Finder an information sharing service only, and does not allow contracting authorities to communicate with suppliers through the site.
Further, a contracting authority is not able to provide suppliers with an overview of all their procurement opportunities on Contracts Finder. The only search filter to help a supplier find opportunities from a specific contracting authority is to select contract location.
So, is Contracts Finder a friend or a foe?
In my opinion Contracts Finder in its current state is more of a foe. At the moment it appears more of an administrative burden on contracting authorities who have to repeat their information.
There is no denying that the potential for Contracts Finder to be a good product for both contracting authorities and suppliers is great, but at the moment it just falls short. It does not offer enough functionality for a contracting authority to be a national portal on the same level as Public Contracts Scotland or Sell2Wales. One has to ask if the Government is doing enough to provide contracting authorities in England with the necessary support and tools to follow the regulations?
We would like to hear what you think. What are your experiences with Contracts Finder? Could the Government provide more support to contracting authorities?
Contracts Finder is currently just in a BETA version, and they are asking for feedback from their users. If you wish to provide feedback directly to Contracts Finder then there is a feedback link at the top of their search page found here.
How to make it easier to publish to Contracts Finder:
You can avoid the hassle of publishing the same information over and over again by using a third party interface that will make sure your information is forwarded on your behalf. That way you only need to enter the information once.
Millstream, the company who runs the successful national government portals Public Contracts Scotland and Sell2Wales, also provides a portal for contracting authorities in England where they offer the mytenders PRO service to their clients.
Millstream is an official eSender and will forward your notices to OJEU. Millstream is also an approved data feed provider to Contracts Finder and will forward the required information to Contracts Finder as soon as allowed according to the regulations.
You get a lot of other benefits from using the mytenders PRO service:
- Support from a dedicated, knowledgeable staff through our UK help desk
- Attach documents online and provide suppliers free and unrestricted direct access.
- Receive responses online through a secure electronic postbox.
- Provide clarifications using an online Question and Answer facility.
- Conduct two-stage exercises, inviting selected suppliers to the second stage.
- Send an invitation to quote for below threshold opportunities using a quick quote facility.
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