An Urgent Review of Single Source Procurement During the Pandemic: Recommendations for Best Practice and Reform

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Law


Public procurement has played a vital role in the COVID-19 response with over 1 billion items of equipment sourced across the UK. However, procurement has not been subject to rigorous analysis. Ordinarily, contracts must be awarded following an open competion. Exceptionally, UK law permits awards to a single supplier without a competition in cases of extreme urgency to minimise delay in delivery. Awards must still be published and clear justifications provided. Yet, hundreds of thousands of contracts have been awarded without full visibility. Further, contracting authorities face immense ongoing pressure to source quickly; suppliers have not been able to access all opportunities; and others have opportunistically charged high prices or not delivered.
This project, led by the world-leading Public Procurement Research Group (PPRG) at the University of Nottingham in strategic partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Open Contracting Partnership, will conduct an urgent investigation into single sourcing during the pandemic. The aim is to develop better organisational planning, ensure legal compliance, achieve value for money, and reduce corruption risks in ongoing procurement during the pandemic. The project also aims to lay the foundation for lasting reform which is responsive to a new global political, economic and social reality. To meet these aims, the project objectives will be to: (1) collect and collate evidence of single sourcing through contract data and stakeholder interviews during a defined period; (2) develop a best-practice "toolkit" for immediate use by contracting authorities and suppliers; and (3) provide a "real-time" comprehensive review of single sourcing, comprising analysis of the evidence and recommendations for policy and legislative reform to inform imminent public inquiries and review exercises.


10 25 50
Description Department of Health and Social Care 
Organisation Government of the UK
Department Department of Health and Social Care
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Stage 1 development of a draft Departmental direct award process guide
Collaborator Contribution Access to key personnel directly involved in COVID-19 PPE procurement; access to key internal Departmental policy documents recently adopted
Impact We are three and a half months into the grant. At this stage, we have produced a draft version of the direct award process guide.
Start Year 2020
Description Open Contracting Partnership 
Organisation Open Contracting Partnership
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution To date, we have jointly hosted a seminar on the power of data in public procurement during COVID-19 (see details in the engagement activities section). We are also working closely with the OCP's lead data analyst to obtain the most comprehensive data set possible on the use of single sourcing during the pandemic from countries signatories to the Open Contract Data Standard. This data will be used to produce the second proposed output (an open access evidence/policy paper on single sourcing during the pandemic).
Collaborator Contribution To date, we have relief on the input from a lead data analyst to search and collate all data required for the project which we will then analyse. They have also provided a list of contacts which have undertaken individual country studies of procurement during the pandemic which we will then interview in the next phase of the project.
Impact In progress
Start Year 2020
Description Public Procurement Research Group Seminar: The power of data in Public procurement: lessons from the frontline of the COVID-19 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact On Friday 05/02/2021, 11:00 - 12:00, the Public Procurement Research Group hosted an event addressing the use of data as a tool to improve transparency in public procurement during the pandemic. The event was organised by the Co-Investigator (Professor Anna La Chimia) and held in partnership with the Open Contracting Partnership, a formal partner under the grant. The purpose was to explore issues surrounding the availability and use of data in public procurement during the pandemic. The aims and objectives were to discuss: (1) the problems of accessing and gathering data on public procurement during the pandemic; (2) the extent of data published during the pandemic; and (3) how access to and use of data can be improved.

The event is directly linked to the AHRC project. We are currently working with the OCP to obtain the most accurate/comprehensive known data set on single sourcing conducted during the pandemic based on the OCP's data of all signatory countries to the Open Contracting Data Standard. This will provide global data that we will use to compare with UK data on single source awards during the pandemic. The OCP's Lead Data Analyst (Camila Salazar) is working in collaboration with us to source all relevant data. In doing so, we have encountered certain issues e.g. refining data fields for searches, the fact that not all searches of national databases produce the required terms (e.g. using product/key term identifiers etc). The event was an ideal opportunity to reflect on the challenges facing access to and use of data. It has helped us to refine our data requests which will optimise our data return for analysis. The data analyst is due to report on the requested data shortly. We will then begin analysing it to produce a policy paper (output 2 in the grant).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020