Skip to Content
View site list


Pre-Bid Projects

Pre-Bid Projects

Click here to see Canada’s most comprehensive listing of projects in conceptual and planning stages


Procurement Perspectives: Government owners dealing with over budget bids

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: Government owners dealing with over budget bids

Quite frequently in public contracting, the lowest bid received will be in excess of the budget upset limit set by the contracting authority.

A budget upset limit is the maximum price at which a contracting authority is prepared to award a contract. Very often, this limit will actually be a part of the public record as it will have been disclosed in the course of fixing the authority’s budget for the year, long before any invitation for tender is issued.

Nevertheless, few contracting authorities will specifically disclose the budget upset limit within the course of the tender itself, largely out of fear that doing so would be likely to inflate the prices that would be bid, towards the budget upset figure.

In all probability, over budget bids are no more frequent in the public sector than in the private sector. However, public contracting authorities operate at a serious disadvantage relative to their private sector counterparts in that their budget setting (and adjustment) process is far less flexible. Thus, where all bids are above the upset limit, the contracting authority must select among a range of options, each of which is preferable from a commercial perspective in only limited circumstances. Specifically, a contracting authority may consider:

  • Seeking an increase in the budget upset limit. This option may be employed where it is absolutely essential to proceed with the project. For instance, this might be the case with emergency remedial work.
  • Deciding not to proceed with proposed project. This option is likely to be selected where there is a substantial difference between the lowest bid and the upset limit and where the nature of the project is such that adjustments to its scale or scope were impractical.
  • Scaling back the project so that it can be completed within the budget upset limit. This option is likely to be selected where the description of the work to be carried out can be readily modified so as to make it less costly.
  • Trying to negotiate a lower price with one or more of the bidders. From the contracting authority’s perspective, this approach is attractive where the lowest bid is significantly lower than the other bids.
  • Negotiating with two or more bidders. From the contracting authority’s perspective, this approach is attractive where there is no material difference among the bids received from those bidders, or where each bidder has strengths that might make it a preferable choice.
  • Issuing a new invitation for tender. This approach may be advisable where the initial competition produced only one or two bids, or where a close bidding system, such as a request for quotation among pre-approved suppliers, was employed rather than open competition.

Because there are so many different considerations that need to be taken into account where the upset limit is exceeded, not surprisingly, few contracting authorities have a uniform practice for dealing with such cases.

Generally speaking, where such a situation arises, the preference among suppliers, (or, at any rate, their trade associations) is for the contracting authority to enter into negotiations with the lowest bidder.

The argument in favour of such a constrained negotiation is that since the lowest bidder was the “winner” of the tender competition, it is entitled to the first crack at the negotiated contract.

The undisclosed benefit from the supplier’s perspective is that it also means the supplier has the advantage of bargaining from a position of monopoly strength with the probable result that the price concessions yielded will be the minimum to secure the contract.

The fallacy of this view is that there is no winner at all. The competition was subject to a test that bidders had to satisfy and none of them did.

From a public policy perspective, the primary goal in public contracting should be to get a good deal for the contracting authority, not to benefit suppliers.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

Recent Comments

comments for this post are closed

You might also like