No dedicated empirical studies into public sector bodies’ feedback practices to SMEs following their submission of an unsuccessful bid for a public sector contract exist.
In providing empirical evidence of the content contained within feedback letters in public procurement feedback exercises, this article responds to a dearth of evidence on this topic (going far beyond the mere reporting of anecdotal practice, the key limitation of existing studies ). It provides a new dataset of information, with a rich variety of detail, which as far as the authors are aware is unavailable elsewhere, in either national or international reports or literature on the topic of feedback to SMEs in public procurement.
By drawing on evidence gathered from feedback letters analysed as part of an EU funded procurement research project , the article proposes the first-ever categorisation of different components of feedback, as well as a unique Universal Feedback Methodology that public sector bodies could use to provide “good” feedback to SMEs in a standardised fashion regardless of contract size, complexity and jurisdiction. This feedback disclosure category typology and associated methodology should prove of use to academics and practitioners alike. It will give confidence to public procurers that the feedback they give complies with the principles of SME-friendly procurement, and at the same time is legally harmonious with national and EU procurement case law and legislation. Equally, it will give assurance to disappointed SMEs that the feedback they receive will allow them to be sufficiently informed such that they can submit a stronger bid next time around, whilst also giving them confidence that this feedback has met a standard of fairness that complies with their legal entitlements in enabling them to understand why they were not selected as the winner. Our Universal Feedback Methodology will also enable SMEs to defend their position if procedural unfairness has occurred.
This article, for the first time, examines actual feedback practice, in the form of a content-based analysis of feedback letters issued by 18 separate UK public sector bodies (Central Government and Local Government organisations; the Police Force and Universities) in 39 different procurement exercises. It provides empirical evidence that bridges the knowledge gap between SME claims and procurer assertions, as regards the extent of feedback provision and the qualitative nature of the feedback provided.
The analysis will enhance our understanding of whether feedback practices meet the needs of SMEs and in so doing, will explore whether there is a disconnect between policy and practice in relation to improving SME access to the public sector marketplace, specifically in the context of non-transparent public procurer feedback provision to SMEs following unsuccessful bid submissions.
Given the SME context to this research, the findings will be of particular interest to those countries from around the world who have adopted a proactive stance towards embracing SMEs in public sector procurement and removing barriers to their participation.
The rest of this paper will proceed as follows. The following section provides contextual background related to SMEs and public procurement, discussing the significance of feedback from both sides of the supplier-purchaser interface. Section 3 provides a review of current literature and addresses a number of elements including the anecdotal nature of existing literature on the subject; the issue of feedback and public procurement policy; and scrutinises existing studies that provide some insight into feedback practice. After this, we provide the legal analysis underpinning the study, with section 5 detailing the methodology employed in the research. Section 6 presents and discusses the research findings, with Section 7 discussing the implications for policy and practice (including a proposed Universal Feedback Methodology) and the final section provides concluding remarks.