National Procurement Portal (NPP)

Published on: 03/02/2010

Wales is a devolved government of the United Kingdom, and has a public sector spend of £5 billion per annum, a population of 3M and up to 200,000 businesses of which over 99% are Small to Medium Enterprises.

In 2001 Welsh Ministers commissioned the Better Value Wales report to look at how savings could be made across the public sector through changes and improvements to public procurement - the objective being savings of £90M that would be directed directly to frontline support services.

The report recommended several key pathfinder projects, one of which was a national procurement website that would serve the dual purposes of consolidating public sector procurement and providing a single definitive portal for businesses who wish to engage in supplying the Welsh public sector, and to get as many sub OJEU opportunities on to it as possible.

The report recommended an innovative approach to making savings through adopting e-Procurement whilst also stimulating economic development of Welsh SMEs through providing consolidated channels and tools to enable them to better engage with, and ultimately supply, the public sector.

The resulting National Procurement Portal (hereafter NPP) is a Welsh Assembly Government portal focused on developing the ability for indigenous Welsh businesses to win more business from the Welsh public sector. The portal consists of two components:

  • Sell2Wales ( - a well used and embedded free opportunity notification service that links registered suppliers to opportunities that match their profile, and allows suppliers to review details of procurement organisations and engage in basic RFQ processes.
  • Buy4Wales ) - ( a sophisticated 'back office' procurement tool that procurers use to create and manage notices, search for suppliers, locate best practice resources and conduct RFQ Request for Quotes.

NPP was borne of a unique partnership between two Welsh Assembly Government Departments - DE&T, who are responsible for the economic development of Wales and Value Wales, a specialist agency focused on achieving savings through making improvements across the public procurement landscape.

Together DE&T and Value Wales pioneered the creation of the NPP in 2003, and from humble beginnings the system has become recognised as a leading example of joined up procurement thinking and is delivering tangible economic development benefits to the supplier community who use it.

Building upon their involvement in the creation of the NPP, Value Wales are now also running a significant pan Wales e-Procurement programme, XchangeWales ( that provides a framework of 'free to use' tools. The tools available are designed to help public sector procurement organisations begin to fully embrace e-Procurement.

The NPP forms the key 'first step' of this programme, and is seen as an 'e-Information' stepping stone to more transactional services such as e-Tendering, e-Procurement etc.

Policy Context

The original driver for the project was to focus on the mandated OJEU notice publication channel and use this to encourage take up by contracting authorities.  The project looked to provide a 'frictionless' free and easy to use environment for the creation, management and submission of OJEU notices to stimulate early uptake of the portal.

This also to create a 'first step' in e-Procurement , which as recently as 2003, was little more than a strategic goal for most public bodies within Wales.

Building upon the legislative need for using the NPP to publish their OJEU notices the Welsh Assembly Government (as part of their 'One Wales' progressive agenda for the government of Wales) agreed to introduce an 'All Wales Purchasing Code of Practice', that committed (amongst other things) to "advertise contracts over £25,000" [i.e. well below EU thresholds] and "comply with all applicable EU and UK procurement legislation, in particular the principle of non- discrimination and apply the rules to all tenderers in a fair and transparent manner".

Description of target users and groups

Wales currently has a public sector spend of approximately £5 billion of which (in the 12 months to November 2009) over 50% of this spend (£2.9 billion) was advertised directly through the NPW portal. The system sends upwards of 10,000 email alerts daily informing suppliers of opportunities that match their profile.

The system has 43,000 registered suppliers, of which 24,229 are based within Wales representing an estimated 20% of the active Welsh supplier community (Source: the Office for National Statistics report 'UK Businesses: Activity, Size & Location - 2009 there are 115,520 VAT and/ or PAYE registered enterprises in Wales).

Many suppliers in Wales are at the 'micro' business end of the SME spectrum - some will never be placed to service public sector procurement needs, but through the supplied tools (and associated supporting programmes) these businesses are quickly able to see if they can service the public sector.

The system now serves 2,500 procurement users from 200 Welsh buying organisations  and they have collectively advertised over 6,500 n0tices (totalling £8.3 billion) of which in the last year alone £183 million consisted of 'non OJEU' opportunities that will naturally appeal to the SMEs that make up the majority of the supplier landscape within Wales.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

In 2003 Sequence were commissioned to undertake in-depth research and stakeholder consultancy that would be used to create the business case and technical specification for what was to become Sell2Wales and Buy4Wales.

Sequence began by undertaking extensive desk based research on worldwide exemplars of online public procurement, including benchmarking studies of success stories in Australia and Northern America.  We then looked closer to home and conducted interviews with key UK procurement stakeholders and experts across the public and private sector.

We realised early on that critical to the success of the project would be engagement with the Welsh procurement community and we conducted a series of Pan Wales workshops and one on one interviews with representatives of over 90 Welsh public sector bodies.

 The output of this commission was a comprehensive report that provides a definitive technical specification, derived from best practice and stakeholder consultation as well as a marketing roadmap that would be used to encourage updated in both the supplier and procurer perspectives.

Technology solution

Our approach recommended a three phase approach to achieve full e-procurement, with the first phase being 'e-Information' - the matching of suppliers to potential opportunities.

We chose to adopt the use of industry standard Microsoft technologies (.NET and SQL) to develop a scalable web delivered application that would allow suppliers to easily register their availability for public sector work, buyers to publish their requirements and for an automated matching service that brings the two together.

The solution integrates with several different external systems including the OJEU's eSender and TED system, DTI's Construction line, WAG's ContractShop website and Bravo's e-Tendering platform. We use a variety of technologies to achieve this including XML and SOAP interfaces.

 After a competitive tender exercise Sequence were re-contracted in 2009 to provide ongoing development and support for the NPP. We are currently working with the Welsh Assembly Government to undertake a significant usability and technology re-fresh project that will see significant functional and interoperability enhancements throughout 2010.

Technology choice: Standards-based technology, Accessibility-compliant (minimum WAI AA)

Main results, benefits and impacts

The ultimate measure of success is the impact that NPP has had on the Welsh business community. Since launch of the NPP and the associated Value Wales programme, public sector contracts awarded to Welsh based companies (based upon postcode) has risen from 35% in 2004 to just over 50% this year (2009).

As part of a wholesale review of procurement in the United Kingdom, the Glover Review highlighted that over 71% of Welsh users indicated that they would recommend sell2wales to other businesses (Source: Glover Review page 46 and page 15) unlike the English portal (where less than half of firms were 'satisfied').

 The portals have received unanimous and continued support from UK business organisations such as the FSB, IoD and CBI

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

Evaluate the potential for others to learn from your case and describe mechanisms for exchange, transfer and replication. Also, please specify whether you have shared this case or project with others (peers, public sector actors, such as governments, etc.) and the results. Max. 4,000 characters

Given that the portal was the first region-wide, cross sector portal in the EU it has gain significant recognition of how public procurement bodies can engage with supplier communities in the interests of economic development.

The NPP is currently being evaluated for use by the UK central government to become the successor to the portal, which as highlighted within the Glover Review was not felt to be performing as originally hoped.

 There is significant opportunity for EU member states who wish to create e-Noticing portals for economic development purposes and the Welsh team would be delighted to share their experience.

Lessons learnt

1. Recognise that procurement tools often need to be driven by the suppliers - the supplier uptake of a portal such as the NPP was critical. Without gaining a critical mass of suppliers the notices would not be seen, and buyers would not have visibility of the potential supplier community. Careful consideration needs to be given to the marketing and promotion of the portal - in this instance the Economic development arm of the Welsh Assembly Government took the lead, and have positioning it as a central part of their business development messaging.

2. Use the EU legislative demands to drive uptake - focus on the mandated elements of the procurement life cycle (i.e. OJEU notice publication) and then look to introduce additional functionality (sub OJEU notices, RFQs, centralised supplier PQQ etc.) when the portal is well embedded within the buyer landscape.

3. Interoperate - recognise that procurement will be conducted by numerous different proprietary systems and tools, and that it will likely be impossible to mandate the use of a national system. Look to provide APIs and interfaces to allow for notices to be exchanged (to benefit the supplier through consolidation on a single portal) and avoiding the need to 'key twice'.

Scope: Local (city or municipality), National, Regional (sub-national)