Surge in complaints over public contracts

The number of complaints from firms challenging government decisions on public sector contracts has risen sharply for the fourth straight year to the highest since before the recession, according to a top law firm.

Complaints about public sector procurement jumped to 73 in the last year, up from 47 the previous year as contractors battled to win business, according to law firm McGrigors. The number of disputes has almost quadrupled since 2007-2008, when there were just 14 complaints.

McGrigors said the proportion of complaints subsequently investigated by the Government had almost doubled to 89 per cent from 45 per cent.

The surge in complaints has led to an unprecedented number of tenders be- ing amended while the procurement process is still live, the Edinburgh-based firm said.

Competition among the bidders for Government contracts has intensified as the amount of work in both the public and private sector has decreased and bidders have become more likely to complain about the tendering process as a consequence.

"The recession has meant that public sector contracts are at a premium," said Stuart Cairns, a director at McGrigors. "There are fewer contracts to go round, so disputes over how contracts are awarded have become more frequent and bitterly fought," he said.

"There is a lot at stake. For many bidders, the risk of failing to secure a public sector contract can mean the difference between survival and going out of business," Mr Cairns added.