Foie gras, Turkish baths and machine guns: the strange world of local government procurement

Local government has a need for all kinds of services, from taxis to stationery. And to ensure that they get the best deals, they acquire them through a procurement process—one that, as suppliers of software to councils, we’ve become very familiar with ourselves.

It’s quite simple: every category of goods or services has its own ID number. You identify the ones that are closest to what you provide—so in our case, it might be software development, software consultancy, and the provision of software packages.

Then you sign up to receive notifications every time a council puts out a request for tenders that fall within one of those categories.

Our newest team member, Camilla, has been spending a lot of time signing up for these notifications across all the various platforms in the UK (buy her a drink if you see her: procurement websites might just be amongst the most infuriating and clunky known to man), and as a result, she’s noticed that as well as all the categories you’d expect, there are also plenty more that you wouldn’t.

For example, who knew that councils had such a regular need for

15112310 Foie gras

or indeed

18318000 Nightwear
98331000 Turkish bath services
18511100 Diamonds
14523400 Platinum
16710000 Pedestrian-controlled agricultural tractors

Then there’s

35321100 Hand guns

and as if that’s not enough…

35321300 Machine guns

There are plenty more categories that might make you go ‘hmm’ – take a look for yourself.

Oh, and here’s a thought – if you’d like to ask your own local council what their expenditure is on nightwear, foie gras or machine guns, you can do so very easily at our own

Image: Dynamosquito (CC)


  1. Worth mentioning (for anyone else interested in procurement) that SpendNetwork ( are already aggregating all this data and releasing it for free without restriction, covering most local authorities in the UK.

    I don’t work for them by the way!

    • Yes, you’re right – it all makes sense once you start thinking about it. It’s just a bit of a novelty for people like us who are stuck in the boring old software categories.

      • CPV codes are standardised all across the EU to facilititate cross-border procurement. And yes, technically they cover all aspects of procurement including defence spending.

        The more specific CPV codes they are the easier it is for suppliers to focus on the goods/services they are really good. A great foie gras producer probably has no interest in supplying bread or cookies though all are foodstuffs. CPV codes when well used reduce the signal to noise ratio for suppliers, although procurers have to do their bit…

        Spendnetwork is doing great work aggregating procurement data from various sources: Tenders Electronic Daily (EU), ContractsFinder (technically UK, mostly England) and others.

        I second Camilla’s views regarding procurement websites and share her pain:

        Having said that, both ContractsFinder and Sell2Wales are much better than they used to be in the past.

  2. Machine guns aren’t anywhere near the strangest thing on the list: 35512100 is for ‘strategic submarine nuclear fuelled’ (there are separate categories for the missiles). As Ian said, these codes cover everything the public sector might need, although it’s still questionable if the government ‘needs’ foie gras, especially following Eric Pickles’s retirement.