Public Procurement Survey of Suppliers: analysis 2020

An analysis of findings from the Public Procurement Survey of Suppliers 2020.

4. Conclusion

The survey findings indicate that there is much to be positive about in respect of Scottish public sector procurement and the recent work done to improve it. At the same time, however, there are clearly areas in which the Scottish public sector could do more to maximise the impact of public procurement.

On the whole, suppliers are relatively well-equipped to bid for and deliver Scottish public sector contracts and, in doing so, are generally asked to consider a range of issues – particularly where they relate to the Sustainable Procurement Duty. There is clear evidence that the embedding of social and environmental matters in the procurement process has improved to the extent that now, most suppliers are being asked to consider these matters when tendering. However, more could be done to encourage greater consideration of innovation during the procurement process as this is an area of the Duty in which the public sector is performing less well.

There were strong indications from suppliers that the tendering process could be better-streamlined and simplified, with many suppliers indicating that the system is still overly-complex and that the process is somewhat burdensome. This was a recurring theme throughout the survey responses and one which, for some, was further underlined by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, where possible, it is important to prioritise and maintain focus on work which will make procurement processes simpler and easier for businesses.

There was a clear sense that SMEs, third sector organisations, sole traders and local suppliers are finding it particularly difficult to navigate this system and also to access, bid for and deliver contracts. Moreover, SMEs are more likely to experience challenges accessing – and having visibility of – public contracts compared to large businesses. This is not to say that large businesses do not also face these issues. Rather, it means that efforts to further streamline procurement systems and improve access to tendering opportunities should be geared towards SMEs in particular.

Clearly, significant proportions of respondents felt they were unable to comment on the extent to which public procurement has changed in recent years, or on the impact of the work undertaken to improve it. This partly related to the demographics of the businesses represented in the survey – typically, newer companies with less experience of tendering felt they were less able to comment. However, it also suggests that more could be done to improve supplier visibility and awareness of changes in public procurement policy and practice and to promote key policy areas and legislative requirements – for example, the Sustainable Procurement Duty – to all suppliers.

Those suppliers who engaged in sub-contracting opportunities reported largely positive experiences of sub-contracting work. However, the evidence shows that late payment of sub-contractors is a significant issue within the current procurement landscape, with the construction industry particularly affected. It is crucial that steps are taken to explore ways in which late payment within supply chains can be tackled more adequately, with the construction industry representing an appropriate focal point.

A range of mechanisms are in place for suppliers seeking training, support or advice on the tendering process – for example, the Supplier Development Programme and the SPoE – or for those seeking practical support to manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their organisation. Moreover, where it is requested, the feedback provided to suppliers by public bodies following a procurement exercise is often of a good (or at least acceptable) standard.

However, supplier awareness and take-up of training, support and advice on tendering has been limited – both in normal times and during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the feedback provided by public bodies following a procurement exercise is not always useful to suppliers. The findings suggest that public bodies could and should do more to promote awareness of the support that is available for tendering processes, while also taking a more proactive approach to issuing constructive and high-quality feedback following tender exercises.

Value for money represents another area in which more could be done to maximise the impact of public procurement activity. Some suppliers felt that Scottish public procurement currently places more emphasis on minimising costs than it does on achieving value for money. As such, there is room for greater consideration of how public bodies can ensure that value for money is placed – and remains at – the forefront of their procurement processes.

These findings appear all the more relevant in light of COVID-19 and this survey has demonstrated the significant impact of the pandemic on both our supplier base and wider economy. We always want to ensure that all suppliers – regardless of size, sector or location – are provided with a level playing field within which to bid for public contracts, and that they are supported along every step of the way. However, for many businesses, this is now more important than ever. We must not underestimate the role that public procurement can play in driving inclusive and sustainable economic growth as we begin to recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic.

At the same time, the survey has highlighted positive learning from the pandemic – learning which can also help the Scottish public sector to improve its procurement processes. In particular, some suppliers have benefited from the increased flexibility brought to the procurement process through the use of technology and homeworking. As Scotland moves into the recovery phase, it is important that this learning is used to good effect.

Next steps

We will seek to use the findings from this survey to shape the future of public procurement policy and practice in Scotland by considering what more we can do – or whether we can do things differently – to further improve our public procurement system.

Moving forward, over the coming months we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to improving the procurement landscape. First, we will take the time required to fully consider the findings of this survey and its implications for our work in both the medium- and long-term, and we will engage our partners and stakeholders in this process along the way.

By continuing to strive for improvement, we can realise our aspirations of using public procurement as a means of delivering outcomes that are:

  • good for business and employees;
  • good for society;
  • good for places and communities;
  • open and connected.

This survey has also opened up opportunities for further research. As mentioned previously, a key limitation to the survey is that it largely reflects the views and experiences of more established businesses who have already been tendering for – and winning – Scottish public sector contracts for quite some time. This paves the way for further research with newer and less-established businesses with less experience of the tendering process, to explore their views on public procurement, the extent of their interest in bidding for public contracts and any challenges faced.

For example, the findings show that newer businesses with less experience of tendering are less likely to have taken up opportunities for training, support and advice on tendering. Research with these groups would enable us to explore why that is the case – it may be that newer businesses have less awareness of such opportunities, or it may also be that they require a different type of support to that currently on offer.



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