Mysteries of the Cabinet Office

Over the last year you may have seen mentions in this blog of the Cabinet Office’s “mystery shopper” initiative, an enterprise that offers businesses the chance to ‘shop’ bad public procurement practice.

They’ve finally released their first progress report, and it makes for fascinating reading.

They’ve investigated over 300 complaints. Of those grievances:

  • 81% of all cases raised issues with the procurement process.
  • 38% of complaints concerned the problems faced by SMEs in dealing with very complicated (and long!) PQQs.
  • Unachievable financial requirements were repeatedly cited as a major problem for SMEs.

The Cabinet Office claims to have been able to bring about a positive change in 4 out of 5 cases investigated. Among the successes they cite: reducing the required insurance levels for a British Council contract by 50% to 90%, settling invoices left unpaid by Imperial College Healthcare and working with the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation to smooth their procurement process.

Tender specifications came up for special criticism, either for being too complex or too prescriptive. Problems with insurance requirements were a repeated issue. Several cases (usually involving NHS trusts) required companies to have required insurance at the time of bidding, rather than in time for the contract itself. This was one area in which the Cabinet Office was able to make changes.

7% of issues dealt with the contracting process after the bid. A lack of clarity surrounding the end of contracts was something flagged up for attention. Other issues involved e-procurement systems. In one case, two companies with very similar names submitted similar bids, resulting in one company being entirely ignored.

The mystery shopper programme is one of the more realistic initiatives to have come out of the Cabinet Office under the current government. Unlike more top down initiatives it can respond to specific process problems quickly, sometimes during a live bid.

The Public Procurement process can be deeply intimidating for small companies with limited resources. However, in the event of unfair or dubious decisions there are recourses SMEs can take, the mystery shopper programme included. Win that Bid’s consultants have lots of experience on both sides of the fence: we can help you make the best decisions.

Believe in your Corporate Social Responsibility policy!

The Carbon Disclosure Project, a non-profit devoted to encouraging more environmentally responsible practices in business has released a report on “supplier management”. In particular, it highlights the increasing willingness of companies to drop suppliers who don’t abide by their CSR policies or environmental promises.

There are several reasons for this. The first is arguably the desire of large companies to “greenwash” their image, particularly now that scandalous practices in offshore manufacturing (notably those effecting Apple in China last year) are becoming much less easier for multinationals to hide.

The other driving force is a growing awareness of the financial benefits of cutting emissions within their supply chains. Many large companies have achieved savings in their own internal systems but according to the UK Carbon Trust fewer than half of multi-nationals (40%) are addressing their “upstream” emissions, i.e those generated by their suppliers. Ultimately, rising energy and commodity prices mean that more efficient, sustainable practices will become ever more important in keeping costs down, and this will become important in private sector tenders.

Businesses writing tenders are being encouraged to optimise their logistical processes, focusing on reducing waste and improving their environmental practices, two activities which almost always complement each other. Private sector tenders will be looking for companies that accept the necessity of environmental corporate social responsibility and more importantly can prove that they have implemented their strategies. Win that Bid can help companies writing tenders make their CSR as relevant and attractive as possible.

New tender opportunities in Defence?

The Defence white paper released on 1st February 2012 has some important news for bid writers. Notably, it raises the possibility that the MOD will be procuring from a much wider range of sources than they had been previously. The paper states:

“Wherever possible, we will seek to fulfil the UK’s defence and security requirements through open competition in the domestic and global market, buying off-the-shelf where appropriate”

It is debatable how far this aim will be met. It will meet resistance from both vested interests in the defence industry and a number of powerful arguments about the practicalities of defending the nation using equipment sourced from outside. This makes it difficult for bid writers to predict exactly how MOD tenders will work in the future.

The MOD has made some more concrete initiatives of interest to bid writers. The threshold for advertising tendering opportunities has been reduced by 75% to £10,000 and they can now be found on Contracts Finder. Internal guidelines are being changed to ensure that PQQs produced by SMEs are not rejected on the basis of rigid turnover-to-contract value ratios without proper assessment of companies’ actual capacity and potential. This, along with the new Defence Suppliers Forum might present new tendering opportunities for bid writers in the future.

Good proposal feedback questions to ask the client

Not getting chosen at the end of a long tender or bid process is painful. However, it is a necessary evil of taking part.  Once the initial shock is over, the worse thing you can do is to forget about it and move on to applying for the next one that crosses your desk.

One of the most important things to do is to conduct an internal and external review. We often get asked how to phrase these questions when you are sitting in front of the buyer as it could be tempting to scream at them, “What’s Wrong With Us?  Do you know how much time we spent on working on this proposal?”

Here are some of our suggestions:

1.  How did the proposal contribute to losing the tender?

2.  Was our proposal easy to evaluate?

3.  Did the proposal comply?

4.  How did it compare on content and price to our other competitors?

5.  Would you recommend we continue to respond to your tenders?

We would love to hear from you and what you find works the best/gets the best results.

Tender Writing: Creating compelling win themes

Creating a killer set of win themes can make the difference between success and failure when pitching your solution to a potential client.  Win themes are basically a set of marketing statements that should run through your proposal or tender writing.

When tender writing creating your win themes is the place to start. If you’re having trouble creating a strong win theme, try brainstorming the following potential issues facing your client:

  • What risk does your client most fear concerning this project?
  • Is there any red tape that your client is particularly concerned by? New legislation? Discrimination regulation? Noise pollution during construction? Archaeological excavation?
  • What special vision does your client have for the project? To what extent are they looking for quality, excellence and innovation?

Then make a list of the following:

  1. Imagine you are your client. Rank the concerns you have just brainstormed from the biggest to the smallest to create an issues list in order of importance.
  2. Next to each of these issues, brainstorm all the ways in which your project can offer a solution.
  3. Rank these solutions against your competitors’. Can you offer greater quality, reliability, efficiency, cost-effectiveness etc.?

You now have two lists, an issues list and a solutions list. Can you link the ideas near the top of each list?

The ideas from this process should enable you to find the main subject of a competitive and relevant Win Theme.

Having problems with your Win Themes and want to put together a killer presentation then give Win That Bid a call today.

Tender Writing Insights: What is a Framework Agreement?

A framework agreement is an opportunity for you, the supplier, to be included in a shortlist of suppliers for a fixed period (eg. 4 years). Whether it’s worth your time depends partly on how fairly the buyer allocates work within the shortlisted suppliers.

Our experienced consultants have worked for most large buyers, so we have inside knowledge that we use when selecting suitable tenders and framework agreements to recommend to you as part of our bid management and co-ordination service.

Framework agreements are much bigger and meatier than your average PQQ and you will need to set plenty of time aside to complete.

Buyers like framework agreements because they are a useful way of procuring services. They offer:

  • continuous improvement within long-term relationships
  • better value and greater community wealth
  • reduced transaction costs

If you want to try to win a framework agreement, consider these:

  • You will be on a supplier list of many
  • There is no guarantee of work, so before making a start on the lengthy documentation, always try to get to know the buyer and whether they are fair in sharing the work around the list of suppliers (ask us)

From the buyer’s viewpoint, a framework agreement is a way to procure products and services over a period of time for a number of projects or schemes. The implications for a local supply chain can be adverse if local suppliers are excluded in favour of national companies.

Some of our clients have said that they spent too much time writing a tender for a framework agreement, winning the contract to much excitement and then not receiving a jot of work from it.  Others have built their business success on winning a framework agreement where the work has been fairly shared between the suppliers.

What have been your experiences on winning framework agreements (or losing them)? We would love to hear your thoughts on this or any aspect of the tender writing process. Drop us a line at, give us a call on 0208 405 1850 or contact us on Twitter.


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.

Fit to Tender Checklist – Getting Through the PQQ

Companies often ask us where to start in the whole process so we have put together a checklist of some of the key items you will need to look out for become commencing.

We feel it is very important that a company should strategically plan to take part in the tendering world as a long term vision and not as a quick win scheme.

Whatever level of tendering you are operating at, whether for public or private companies, the higher the contract value the more rigorous the process is.

Do you have sufficient understanding and capability to give credible answers to the following in any Expression of Interest, PQQ, Proposal or Tender?

  • Administrative information
  • Business probity and professional conduct
  • Economic and financial standing
  • Health and safety
  • Quality assurance
  • Technical capability (eg operations, specifications, manufacturing process)
  • Customer care & service levels
  • Equal opportunities
  • Environment
  • References

Do you have the following documentation in one place?

  • Certificate of Incorporation
  • Organisation / company / group structure chart
  • Audited accounts for the last 3 years (with a minimum of at least 2)
  • Certificate of Employer’s liability insurance
  • Certificate of Public liability insurance
  • Health and safety policy
  • Quality assurance policy
  • Equal opportunities policy
  • Environmental policy
  • Documents supporting technical capability
  • Accreditation documentation