OJEU opportunities: 2014 Thresholds & Limits

Proposal writers may have noticed that on the 1st January 2014 the EU published new public procurement financial thresholds. These will apply to all award procedures under the public contracts regulations 2006. With these recent changes, now is a good time to look at what the financial thresholds are and what they mean for proposal writers looking for opportunities.

The UK thresholds for public sector tenders under the latest regulations are:

  • Supply/Service contracts awarded by central government- £111,676.
  • Supply/Service contracts awarded by other contracting authorities – £172,514.
  • Works contracts – £4,322,012.

If the contracting authority wishes to enter into multiple contracts to fulfil the same requirement, then the value of those contracts will be aggregated together to decide whether it crosses the threshold. The rules are very specific about this: when offering public sector tenders contracting authorities must not enter into separate contracts below the thresholds in order to avoid having to apply the regulations.

If the value of a tender exceeds these values then it must be listed in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), which is a major source of public sector tenders for proposal writers. The OJEU is a very good resource for anyone looking for tender opportunities. Win that Bid can help you navigate through these complicated procedures.

Laying the procurement pipeline

New information has emerged from the Cabinet Office describing the £84bn ‘procurement pipeline’ planned for the next five years. Covering 18 business sectors, the pipeline lays out the government’s anticipated project needs over the next few years. Notices of this kind have been published since November 2011; the most recent announcement adds professional services, financial services, waste management, and fire services.

The government’s goal is to make it easier for companies to plan ahead, something that has traditionally been difficult for organisations working with the public sector. Skills gaps can be identified and dealt with earlier. Moreover, it is evidence of a laudable transparency in government spending that can only help improve processes and efficiency.

Back in April business secretary Vince Cable laid out the reasoning behind these plans. “Frankly, we’ve been too short-term in how we’ve done procurement in the past. Our key competitors in Europe already see procurement as an integral part of a proper industrial strategy and it’s time we did the same.” Recent procurement scandals and political rows have made it difficult for the government to prove it has any kind of industrial policy at all, and rather overshadowed the wave of initiatives, ideas and proposals streaming out of the cabinet office.

This initiative comes at a time when many businesses reliant on government contracts (especially those devoted to major infrastructure projects) are struggling. Construction giant Balfour Beatty recently issued a profit warning based on a dearth of major schemes, while a former Laing O’Rourke executive recently told the press that lack of infrastructure investment and planning in the UK would lead his ambitions elsewhere. Infrastructure schemes have fallen by half in the year to October, while £3bn of construction work is behind schedule or even entirely halted as a result of planning appeals. Friends and colleagues in the construction sector have sitting around waiting for suitable bids to emerge.

The Pipeline can give companies time to plan ahead which they might not have had before. Win that Bid’s vast experience in a number of sectors can help you make best use of that time, to be ready to grab the opportunities ahead.

Paying attention to EU procurement rules so you don’t have to

The Cabinet Office has released a Procurement Policy Note (PPN) discussing the latest results of negotiations in Brussels about changing the procurement rules which ultimately define public sector tenders. These EU rules can be a bit obscure and so it is interesting to get a window into the process and progress of these discussions.

There are a few specific areas of interest to bid writers within the document.

Reducing minimum timescales

The government has supported proposals to reduce the minimum timescales for responding to advertised procurements and preparing tender documents. So far a reduction from 40 to 35 days has been agreed upon, under the open procedure.

Increasing the use of self-declarations

Regular readers of this blog will have seen several articles about government initiatives (not to mention scandals and complaints from business) surrounding the length and requirements of public sector tender PQQ documents. The latest response is to increase the use of self-declarations, whereby only the winning bidder must submit documents and certificates proving their status, while self-declarations of compliance must be accepted by the procurement officers up to that point. This will be a welcome change for SMEs and smaller bidders, if it isn’t open to abuse.

Financial Requirements for SMEs

The Cabinet Office has continued to argue that SME business should be encouraged by breaking large bids into lots, at the discretion of the purchasing authority. It also wants to reduce the turnover requirements relative to contract size. Together with proposals in favour of “innovative public service delivery-agents” such as employee owned “mutual”, these are further moves in favour of diversifying the pool of bidders from which governments and public sector purchasing authorities draw their contracts.

The final results of these discussions will probably be adopted in early 2013. Win that Bid can help bid writers keep up to date with the latest public sector tender developments.

How to Find Tenders

People often ask us how to find tenders for their business.  There are hundreds of portals in the UK – some generalist, some specialist.  Some charge a membership fee and others are free.  This article sets out a few ways to find yourself some great tendering opportunities.

Contracts Finder
Contracts Finder is a free new service for businesses, government buyers and the public. This service comes from the Government and you can find:

· live contract opportunities

· closed tender documentation

· contract awards and contract documents

TED (Tenders Electronic Daily)
TED is the online version of the ‘Supplement to the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU)’, dedicated to European public procurement. Public procurement in the UK and European Union is governed by a number of Directives and Regulations and all tender opportunities above a certain monetary threshold must be published in the OJEU. TED provides free access to business opportunities. It is updated five times a week with approximately 1500 public procurement notices from the European Union, the European Economic Area and beyond. Register on the TED website for free to get started.

Where to find Global Sporting Opportunities

Where to find Local Authority opportunities

It is worth finding out how your local authorities manage their tenders however we find that in the majority they use their own online portals, advertise in local papers and/or use an external company like Exor to manage their preferred supplier database.

Central Government

Try these for size

NHS

The Department of Health is divided into a number of business units for purchasing purposes, each with their own budgets.  We have selected a few ways to monitor different tendering and business opportunities

Specialist

Each sector often has its own specialist portals and we have put together a list of some of them

What do you think of our How to Find Tenders list – have you got a favourite to add?

Tender Writing Insights: Managing Online Tender Portals

Recently, some of the Win That Bid team completed a large and complex bid involving the public sector portal ‘Bravo’. There are hundreds of online procurement portals around all with their own language and foibles. However, there are some basic principles that can help you when, with that deadline looming, you find yourself wrestling desperately trying to submit your online tender.

Access

Know your login details and ensure you have the correct level of user access

Having spent weeks or months with your head buried in the tender writing documentation, the time has arrived to upload your submission. And if you’ve forgotten your login details or do not have a sufficient level of access let’s hope you haven’t realised this too late i.e. out of working hours, during busy periods or just prior to the deadline. Online help will only get you so far so if it’s a human being you need to speak to then make sure you do so in advance.

Utilise quieter periods

Early mornings, late nights, weekends and Bank Holidays are ideal

The majority of your competitors will leave their tender writing and submission to the last minute. The risk here is that the portal will time out due to the sheer volume of documents being uploaded. The Win That Bid team who worked on this latest bid submitted documents as they were completed, and in some cases as far as two weeks in advance. They also made use of early mornings, late nights and the Easter holidays.

Upload larger documents first

Larger documents take longer

As larger documents take longer to upload start with them first. This is especially the case with heavy document based tender portals such as Bravo that may not have a limit on the amount of tender documents you are allowed to submit.

Save, save, check, check again and save

Don’t get timed out or caught out

Tender portals will usually time out after 15 minutes of being dormant. Make sure to hit save as soon as you’ve uploaded your latest documents.

Once you have finished uploading go back and check all questions have been answered and all documents have been uploaded. Often you can print the documents list from the portal and more than often you will find there is at least one document missing. Never assume a document has saved.

And if it’s all too much outsource your tender writing, bid and document management to the 2am wrestling experts at Win That Bid.

Tender Writing Insights: What no PQQ, Francis Maude?

The hills are alive with the gentle rumblings and occasional cheers about the possibility of scrapping the PQQ (pre-qualifying questionnaire) stage of the public tender process.

Francis Maude has confirmed that by scraping certain parts of the PQQ process, it will help encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to win public sector contracts. Nice sentiment but is it really going to help the SME? At Win That Bid, we spend some of our working day with clients to help them with the tender writing and PQQ process and quite frankly some of them are so badly written and poorly assembled, you wander what the Buyer was thinking of. Maybe they were thinking of what they were going to do at the weekend or what they are going to have for lunch, definitely not thinking about the job in hand. Often they are riddled with errors, contradictory text and have confusing sentence structures which all add to the hassle of the tender writing task.

Inspite of these frustrations, we must remember that the questionnaire stage serves an important purpose. It helps the buyer reduce the amount of unsuitable bidders whilst suppliers spend a fraction of the time finding out whether they are/are not suitable. Imagine if the way to win contracts meant going straight to tender? This would mean that SME would have to spend much more time tendering to no avail which could ultimately mean less companies compete. Francis Maude’s intention is good, however, perhaps he needs to think about his approach. Perhaps it is not the process that is at fault, more the interpretation by buyers.

Often irrelevant questions are asked and demands for policies and procedures need to be met even if they have nothing to do with demonstrating one’s capability at delivering the actual service. Francis Maude should focus on delivering more training and guidelines to buyers as well as reviewing the PQQ process to ensure the all important fairness to the SME market.

What do you think? Tell us or drop us a line on any aspect of the tender writing process.

Tender checklist – Submission

Having reviewed your document here are some things to check before submitting it.

  • You may want to deliver the tender document in person to ensure it arrives on time and in best condition.  If so, remember to take a timed and signed receipt.
  • If you use a courier make sure they are a firm you trust and that they do not attach the name of any company to your package.
  • If sending by post, check whether or not your franking machine contains your company  name.  This must not appear anywhere on your document.
  • Send two copies of the document to your client along with an SAE (self addressed envelope).  If you do get the job, have the client sign one and return it to you.
  • If submitting it electronically, ensure you can get a record of its dispatch and receipt.
  • Monitor the issuing authority until the closing date of the award, and contact someone if you do not hear anything by that time.

Tender Writing Policies: What’s the point of an environmental policy?

Green issues have never been so important to consumers, which is why proving that you’re responsible and intelligent with your resources has become so vital.  The best way to do this is with an environmental policy.

For SMEs as part of a supply chain your buyers will be feeling the same pressure to provide environmentally sound services as you are.  These days it’s not only the biggest contracts or the public sector that require an environmental policy as standard.  Green targets and Corporate Social Responsibility mean that everyone is just that little bit more concerned about the environment.

There are lots of reasons to think about how energy efficient your company is.  You might have a genuine concern for the environment, you may understand that being green sells or you could just want to cut the cost of waste.  Whatever the reason for creating your environmental policy there will be lots to think about.  How many of these apply to your business:

  • Energy Efficient technology – Whatever sector you’re in there will be energy efficient technology you can update to.  Though initial costs may be high, check how much you could save over the lifetime of a piece of equipment.  There are even savings to be made in the office: ‘Office-based business activities are responsible for the emission of around 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. It is estimated that energy savings of up to 20%, equivalent to more than £157 million, are possible across the sector’ [The Carbon Trust – http://bit.ly/8ZbDIL].
  • Behaviour Change – If you don’t want to shell out for lots of new, green equipment simply changing behaviour in the workplace can still have an effect.  Making sure that employees understand why these new practices are being introduced and that they’re motivated is key to success.  You could even appoint a head of efficiency to help get everyone on board and make sure they follow through.
  • Wrapping and Packaging – The amount used in packaging is increasingly an issue so it’s useful to think about what you can minimise and what can be recycled.  If you want to find out about legislation or savings there’s a lot of info online, here’s a good place to start : http://envirowise.wrap.org.uk/.
  • Water – We don’t often realise how much water we use.  Putting in a water metre can help monitor how much your business spends.  Also, fitting different appliances can help, did you know spray taps can reduce water use by 60 – 70% compared with conventional taps?

Once you’re ready to write your policy, keep it short and easy to understand.  Make sure your goals are realistic, and that the actions you’ll take to achieve them are ones your employees understand and are enthusiastic about.  Schedule reviews so you know what targets you’re hitting and what you’re missing.  Getting it right can really make a difference, so if you need help you can always ask about our services.

You can keep up to date with new environmental legislation by subscribing to NetRegs Update, a free, monthly email newsletter.

Why aren’t your PQQs being shortlisted?

When assisting clients with their pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) you’d be amazed at just how often we see the same mistakes rear their heads time and time again. And if we notice them, you can bet your prospect will too. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation – you know you have to improve your responses, but each practice PQQ is a missed contract and worse still possibly a dent in your reputation.

To help you try to identify where you might be going wrong we’ve decided to let you in on the top 3 PQQ blunders that in our experience prevent suppliers from getting shortlisted:

Strike One: Not proof reading! You’d think this one was obvious. The main culprits are;

  • Concentrating on the narrative questions and not spending enough time on the detail of shorter responses
  • Cutting and pasting text from different drafts
  • And the really embarrassing one, using content from old PQQs and forgetting to change the details!

These kind of mistakes disrupt the flow of reading and can start to distract from what you’re trying to say. And in the case of using copied text from former PQQs they say to the buyer that you aren’t taking them seriously, therefore how on earth will you be able to deliver the contract?

Often clients have proof read their documents, they just haven’t done it well enough or because they have written it struggle to see the wood from the trees.

Tip One: finish your response in good time and ask a colleague to give it a good proof read.

Strike Two: Not taking maximum advantage of your word limit! What a waste! The buyer has given you a set amount of space to tell them about your company, and you leave it blank?! It may be difficult to think of how best to structure your answers, but you should always aim to use as much of the allotted space as you can. Lots of blank space can create the impression that you don’t have much to offer.

Tip Two: Decide what’s important to the buyer in this section. Consider why have they asked this question. What would be the ideal answer?

Strike Three: Not selling your business! It may feel strange to blow your own trumpet so shamelessly but don’t forget this is a competition. The buyer will have a ton of documents to read through and if you don’t convince them that your company is the best then you won’t be shortlisted. If you understate your capabilities and achievements the buyer will reach for the next PQQ, so make sure they know you’re the best.

Tip Three: Before getting into the content, identify your story. Why are you better than your competitors and why should you win this contract. Carry this theme throughout the PQQ.

So there you have it, three simple rules for success. We know that this is only a small part of growing your business, but at times like these every little helps. Every PQQ is important, so don’t waste your chances.