This article is part of Tenders Guru, a project funded by the European Union.
The data used in this article comes from the Public Sector Contracting Platform (PLCSP), where the majority of Spanish public entities publish procurement data. We have downloaded all contracts published from January 1 to December 31 from 2020. They total 119,976. In addition, we have also added the contracts that some regional administrations (such as Madrid and Catalonia) publish on their own websites and only summarise on the PLCSP. We found 53,838 such contracts. The goal was to create a comprehensive database for understanding emergency procurement in 2020 and detect potential abuses of the rules.
All amounts exclude value added taxes and we excluded so-called minor contracts, worth less than 15,000 euros and subject to different rules.
At the beginning of 2021, seven autonomous communities did not publish their procurement data directly on the national portal, but rather on their own portals: Andalusia, Catalonia, Euskadi, Galicia, Madrid, Navarra and La Rioja. The Region of Murcia published incomplete data on the national portal in 2020. Although in theory these regional portals are connected to the national one and the information should match, in practice there are problems. Not all contracts are available, and fundamental information is lacking, such as the award date and the urgency of the contract. Therefore, we have completed the contracts of these external platforms with additional details extracted from their web pages.
Unfortunately, each autonomous platform has its peculiarities. While Catalonia and Euskadi always indicate the urgency of their contracts in a clearly labelled field, Andalusia often leaves it blank, as does Galicia. La Rioja adds “Emergency” to its file code. Navarra does not always mention the emergency, but classifies the contract as “without procedure”, implying that something unusual is happening. Madrid labels its extraordinary contracts as “Other procedures”, but to find the level of urgency you have to look at the notes: “Emergency”, which it might spell “EMRGENCY” (sic) or “Emergeincy” (sic) or … Galicia classifies everything correctly but has not sent its emergency contracts to the national platform, so we had to add them by hand. (The Galicia web search engine also insists that there are no emergency contracts, although there clearly are.) Madrid does not send all its contracts to the PLCSP either, although we have not discovered the pattern: some arrive, others do not. So, we downloaded all the contracts from its website and added the ones missing from the PLCSP. Furthermore, Madrid is the only platform that does not publish the award date of its contracts, but rather the “award publication date”, which is not the same thing. Murcia published its health systems’ procurement in a spreadsheet separate from the normal contracting information. We combined all the purchases from that file and its non-health procurement to our database. Catalonia published a series of “umbrella” contracts with multiple awards in a combined spreadsheet, plus a separate summary file for the entities of the Generalitat itself. We have reviewed and cross-checked all these files and added the results to our database. Asturias already officially publishes directly in the PLCSP but continues to send some contracts to its own external platform, and some contracts have invalid URLs that do not seem to be accessible even in the Asturian platform.
In general, both for contracts published on external and national platforms, we have found many contracts where the winner of the tender was “See notes” or “See award”, which we have had to add manually. We also found many contracts where the award amount was empty or was clearly incorrect when compared to the budget. We have corrected the errors that we have detected by verifying the original award certificates. A special shout-out to this maintenance contract for six vehicles issued by the city of Oviedo, budgeted at EUR 37,200 and awarded to a local company for -supposedly- 251.52 billion euros, 6.7 million times the original contract budget and 143 times Asturias’ entire health budget. It does not seem to have attracted the attention of any of the officials involved in publishing the clearly mistaken information. (It is also surprising that the other bid did not win, for “only” 50 billion euros.)
The end result is what we believe is the most comprehensive public contracts database available in Spain. This does not mean that it contains all 2020 emergency contracts, although by law all public bodies must send their information to the PLCSP. Not all platforms do it consistently, as the Independent Office for Regulating and Supervising Procurement (OIRESCON) has already reported. Some contracts must still be on the long journey (sometimes many months long) from award to publication.
Once we created the database, we reviewed it for possible errors: duplicate files, mis-classified procedures, lots with the wrong prices, mistaken fiscal identification numbers (especially in the case of non-EU companies, which tend to be inconsistently filled in) or names written differently each time, and separate contracts published together that we have had to extract and separate…
The most important revision has been in the award prices, which we always record without taxes. We have looked at what happened with those contracts that did not have any amount or reported an amount of 0. We have filled in as many gaps as possible. In the case of the -few- framework agreements, we have used the bidding price, that is, the budget, since the final expense will depend on the final amount purchased from each supplier, and that has not yet been published.
In all these cases, we have had to investigate when the original documents were missing. And, sometimes, we couldn’t even find basic information in those documents, such as what had been bought from whom and for how much money. The two main barriers have been missing information and inconsistency and typos in the data.
To establish the categories, we had to start with the basics: check which contracts were wrongly classified between supplies / works / services. From there, we have created general categories taking into account which objects were the most common. We have not been able to use the European common procurement vocabulary (CPV) code, because in most cases the descriptions were inconsistent. We had to decipher which category each contract belonged to by its object, using keywords for each of them, check them in Spain’s co-official languages, and check manually when necessary. An added difficulty: sometimes a single contract covered a variety of products or services.
You can download and reuse the clean files we used in this analysis from the Civio open data website here:
If you find errors, please notify us
We know that the original source, the Public Sector Contracting Portal, contained errors, probably from data entry into the systems by the public entities. We have fixed the errors we found. We have worked on the data with the greatest possible rigor, but if you find any flaws in them or in our analysis, please write to us at [email protected] and we will be happy to correct it.