The SCSI recently surveyed its Chartered Quantity Surveyor members on issues around public procurement. TOMÁS KELLY looks at the results.

The perils of procurement

The Public Capital Programme is a significant proportion of annual output in the construction industry. As a result, the public procurement process plays a very important role in its day-to-day operation. As Chartered Quantity Surveyors we, more than most industry professionals, regularly interact with this process in a tenderer capacity, either as a consultant, as part of a contractor organisation, and/or as a consultant or contracting authority.
The SCSI Public Procurement Working Group has been engaging with authorities in relation to public tendering and, following this engagement and subsequent CPD, the Working Group prioritised the development of a public procurement survey to gather the views of Chartered Quantity Surveyors. The survey sought to include the participation levels and perceptions of QS practices in relation to public procurement, and sought suggestions from members as to how this might be improved.

The SCSI surveyed its QS members in Q4 2014 to bring to the fore the issues and challenges facing the industry. The key findings of the survey were:

  • seven out of 10 respondents indicated that their company made fewer than five public sector submissions last year;
  • 55% of respondents consider public sector work to account for less than 10% of their practice turnover;
  • larger QS practices (with more than 11 employees) are on double the number of frameworks compared with smaller firms (fewer than five employees);
  • onerous paperwork, lack of de-briefing and overemphasis on price were cited as the three most frequent negative factors when participating in public tenders;
  • complexity of documentation, firms’ experience in the sector, and the cost of the process were three main reasons to constitute a no bid decision in respect of public procurement opportunities; and,
  • 71% of QS respondents, compared with an EU average of 38%, indicated that public tendering had a disproportionate/high financial requirement.

A further finding has been that smaller QS firms (i.e., those with fewer than five employees) have indicated that the percentage of turnover relating to public procurement is likely to be half in 2015 when compared to pre recession (seven years ago). This is a worrying statistic and one that needs attention and consideration by the Office of Government Procurement (OGP).

Seven out of 10 respondents indicated that their company made fewer than five public sector submissions last year.

Issues for procurement advisers
In terms of acting as procurement advisers on behalf of a contracting authority, Chartered Surveyors also encounter a range of issues, of which the two most prevalent are:

  • challenges by unsuccessful tenderers; and,
  • a lack of contractor and client understanding of the process.

In addition to seeking answers to defined questions, the survey also invited respondents to provide additional comments or suggestions to improve the public procurement process. A key proposal that was mentioned, and one which the SCSI procurement group has been advocating, is the implementation of a ‘procurement passport’, whereby the applicant can register individual firm details on an annual basis, for example, thus reducing the administrative burden to complete this mundane and unnecessary, time-consuming exercise on each tendering occasion. Initiatives such as this can go a long way to reduce the administrative burden, both on the tenderer and contracting authority sides.

The Procurement Working Group will continue to engage with the OGP in relation to all issues raised in the survey. The full survey results are available online at

Tomas Kelly

Tomás Kelly
Tomás is Chairperson of the SCSI’s QS Procurement Working Group.