Most people in the European Union are blissfully unaware of the work of the European Commission and the vast amount of often useful and interesting material they produce. One example of that is the set of annual “Country Reports”, available here, which cover economic, social and political issues, challenges and achievements for many of the countries within the EU. Here is the introduction.
In February 2016, the Commission published a series of Country Reports for each Member State*, analysing Member States’ economic and social policies. For 18 Member States identified in November 2015, the Country Reports include in-depth reviews examining the existence and nature of possible macroeconomic imbalances. In May 2016, based on the analysis presented in the Country Reports and the dialogue held with Member States, the Commission will present country-specific recommendations.
*Cyprus and Greece to follow
Public procurement is not exactly a core topic in these reports, but it does get mentioned in all the reports, it appears from our initial sampling. For today, we will give examples of the sort of content provided, and also highlight the variation in the amount of coverage given in different countries. Not unnaturally, that seems to be driven by the scale of the problems in public procurement in each country! So if we compare and contrast the UK and Slovakia, we see that the only mention of procurement in the UK (that we can find anyway) is this paragraph.
“The UK public procurement system is well-functioning and efficient. Professionalism in public procurement is high at central government level, due to quality recruitment and training of personnel. Moreover, contracting authorities perform well in terms of regulatory compliance. The move towards greater centralisation has allowed the UK to achieve significant savings over the last 5 years, and the target for 2015-2016 is to deliver savings of approximately GBP 800 million to 1 billion”.
Now that seems a slightly overly-positive review, in our opinion, although everything is relative! Central government departments might not agree that greater centralisation has been a great success, at least not yet. And the “savings” arguably have been driven by the major reduction in the overall number of civil and public servants. If you reduce the number of users of goods and services by 30%+ then you might expect to make a reasonable amount of procurement savings too! However, if we move onto Slovakia, the issue of relativity becomes obvious as we see a country with more fundamental issues than the UK in terms of public procurement.
“The public procurement system still suffers from a number of weaknesses. Procurement lacks clear ownership and strategic inter-institutional coordination. In addition, procurement practises appear to be weakly professionalised. This is mirrored in lengthy procurement procedures: contracting authorities took on average 137 days to award a contract after the submission of tenders, compared to an EU average of 81 days. Moreover, the lowest price was the main award criterion in 88 % of the contracts awarded in 2015… Procurement lacks clear ownership and inter-institutional coordination. When assessing performance in key aspects of public procurement according to indicators from the Single Market Scoreboard (79), in 2014 Slovakia was found to have a low ranking in 5 of 6 indicators (80).
The high share of contracts awarded by negotiated procedure without publishing a call for tender limits competition. Surveys suggest that competition in tenders is limited by conflicts of interest, tailor-made tender specifications and a high level of perceived corruption …”
But it is not all bad news if you are Slovakian!
Slovakia is a leader in publication of contract notices and has improved the transparency of public procurement. In 2014, the publication rate rose sharply to 55 % of total expenditure on works, goods and services, significantly above the EU average of 26 %. This is mainly due to the continued use of the mandatory contract register since 2010.
However, even then, it is not all good news on the technology front.
The transition to fully-fledged e-procurement is being slowed down by delays in moving to e-government services. E-procurement platforms such as the Electronic Contracting System, once fully completed and extended to all types of procedures, are expected to increase efficiency and simplify public procurement procedures.
Anyway, if you are at all interested in public procurement generally, or if you’re a national public procurement leader who wants to benchmark and compare performance, this is a very valuable resource. Indeed, the wider reports are a surprisingly good and interesting read if you have any interest in economics, politics or social affairs more widely. We may well come back to some of the other country reports later and will certainly look out for those recommendations being published in May.