How to Win UK Government Tenders

The UK coalition government is committed to putting more work out to government tenders. It’s already an enormous market, with £7.6bn being spent by central government alone, which means public tenders in the UK offer a precious opportunity to grow your business.

More UK government bids than ever:

Adding to that outsourcing pressure is the new localism bill that aims to force local authorities in the UK to procure more than 25% of its business from local companies through government contracts. UK opportunities are good – there are more UK government tenders to go for, and that’s all before we consider tendering in Europe.

Which UK government tenders would you like to win?

Our advice is always to play to your strengths. Use government tenders to bolster your strongest business, not to try and open up new markets.

Finding UK government contracts

For UK government tenders we recommend Tenders Direct. It’s comprehensive, free to search for public tenders, UK based, and shows the last year of tender opportunities so you can get an idea of what’s possible. For a quick calculation, think in terms of getting shortlisted for one in three public sector tenders and then winning 60% of those (assuming we’ve selected and written the tender).

Tenders Direct isn’t free (you can, however, save £150 using our promotion code here) but they save you time by manually filtering the public sector tender opportunities you receive.

UK government bidding project management

Use our bid management service to help you win government tenders in the UK, Europe and worldwide.

Because successfully winning public tenders is partly about selecting the right tenders, we then manage that stream of tender opportunities on your behalf, usually under a 10 or 20 per annum Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) bid management service.

We maintain a library of your key documents such as insurance and policies, ensuring we only spend time on key points of difference when completing a tender document. Effective bid management is about managing time and resources.

To win UK government contracts, use experienced people

If you just need someone to organise the initial stage of your bidding process, you can take over from here. However, our bid writers have a minimum of 15 years’ experience and most have come from the procurement world and know many of the buyers and organisations – so we can help with all stages of winning a bid through invitation to tender (ITT), right to the final presentation.

In these later stages it’s very important to know the buying organisation – their culture, policies, and supply chain. Here we have a head start, because our experienced team knows the government buyers and their scoring methodologies, so we are able to help you create content that presses the right buttons.

(If you are working on larger or more numerous bids, it’s worth knowing that – as the biggest tendering consultancy in the UK, we can provide extra muscle as and where you need it.)

For professional bid management, to improve your win ratio, or when you need more skilled resource while tackling government tenders, call Win That Bid on 0203 405 1850 or email us at hello@winthatbid.com.

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.

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.

Virgin Rail and the right to challenge

The origins of the Virgin Rail scandal last month rapidly became lost in the recrimination and blame, as the Department for Transport attempt to apportion culpability and pundits discuss the role and capabilities of the civil service. When self-styled “tie-wearing adventurer” Richard Branson launched his legal challenge to the West Coast franchise decision two months ago, it was widely regarded as a knee-jerk, even ill-considered action of a man known for scrappy battles on behalf of his business.

The DfT was due to award a long term franchise to FirstGroup until “significant technical flaws” became evident during their preparations for the Virgin lawsuit. These flaws became evident in the risk assessments of First’s winning bid.

Virgin faced substantial risks in mounting a challenge to the DfT. Some of these risks were revealed in the initial media coverage of the challenge that portrayed Richard Branson as an opportunist and a sore loser (not helped by Virgin Rail’s relatively poor public reputation). If the legal case had failed Virgin’s commercial reputation (and finances) would have suffered.

They had a number of options, all of them risky:

Under Public Procurement law Virgin could mount a formal challenge. To do this they would have to allege that the contracting authority has run the process in an unfair or opaque manner. If they were successful in this, the contract award would have to be suspended while the issue is resolved – allowing more time to discover exactly what happened (and why they lost).

Their second option would be a judicial review. They would need to show a public interest in such an action – easily achieved, given the political climate – but the latter stage would be more difficult. Virgin would essentially have to prove that no reasonable authority would have made the contract decision. Before the events of last month, this was considered unlikely to happen.

In the event, Virgin were able to prove that large parts of the process was flawed. The DfT has spent the last few weeks apportioning blame, mainly directing it at the civil servants involved. In turn, there has been a lot of scrutiny directed at the structure of the procurement process –

A great many qualified professionals have been lured out the public sector by higher wages in recent months, and this, combined with poor systems of review, greatly contributed to the fiasco. We have been discussing government initiatives on this blog for months – all of them seem doomed to failure if the Civil Service can’t do something to arrest the skills gap in government procurement.

Richard Branson’s decision to challenge has been vindicated. The DfT has ordered a number of independent reviews and Virgin has been awarded a short term contract under circumstances that some rivals claim were actively uncompetitive (there should have been a tender for the contract extension). Since the fiasco Virgin has changed strategy dramatically, aiming to expand its market share into the East Coast lines that GNER and National Express mismanaged back into government hands three years ago (under contracts similar to the one offered to FirstGroup). They will likely also retain the West Coast franchise in the long term, if they can see off competition from Abellio.

Virgin Rail weighed up the risks inherent in challenging the bid and made the strategic decision to do. Meanwhile, we’ve been noticing that numerous tenders are having their deadlines put back – maybe as a result of jumpy procurement officials? Win that Bid can help you weigh up the risks in your own bids, and comprehend the contracting authority.

Qualifying the Bid

The G4S debacle we discussed in the last post raised a big issue for bid writers: how to qualify your bid. Is that astonishing £300 million tender opportunity going to turn into a real disaster for your company? Less melodramatically, are your bid writers going to waste weeks of sleepless nights filling out PQQs trying to win a bid you weren’t ever going to win?

Don’t go for every bid

Setting aside an apparent opportunity isn’t the same as wasting one. Trying to win a tender opportunity means putting in an enormous investment in time and energy. Much better to put that effort into a quality proposal than spreading it across dozens of failed prospects.

Before you choose which bids to aim for, read the tender contracts in detail and consider:

  • Are you qualified for the bid? Do you have the right accreditation, the right resources, the right documentation to get through the PQQ? More to the point, can you demonstrate that to the procurer?
  • Is the bid right for your business? Can you demonstrate prior work for clients in the same sector?
  • Do you understand the bid requirements? That unclear pricing structure could really hurt you after the contract is won, as happened to G4S!
  • Who is the buyer? Do you have a relationship with them? Will you be able to establish a dialogue with them? Will they ask you to provide five times the number of personnel you were contracted for at the last minute, and do you have contingency plans if they do?
  • Who are your competitors? Can your bid writers demonstrate why it is that your company will be a better choice?

Get some sleep!

The answers to those questions aren’t always as obvious as they sound, particularly in tender contracts with long or arcane PQQs. Win that Bid has a lot of experience in helping people to get those winning contracts, but also in avoiding two of the great curses of bid writing: wasting time on failed bids, or winning bids that the company was never suitable for in the first place.

Could the G4S security contract have worked?

Last week Win that Bid published a blog quoting a director from G4S as he proclaimed the rise of police privatisation. I wasn’t entirely positive about the prospect… and even as it went live on the site G4S became embroiled in a massive contract scandal reported across the world, destroying their share price.

There has been lots of press coverage about the company’s failures, but what about the contract itself? Could they have succeeded in meeting it at all?

There were warning signs last September, when the firm reported that it would not be able to recruit more than guards than it was originally contracted for without a great deal of prior warning. The Home Office then took four months to confirm what it actually needed (far more than the contract called for, naturally). All security staff have to be centrally vetted and licensed through the Security Industry Authority (SIA) before they can be deployed, drastically slowing down their recruitment process. There seems to have been an awful lack of clarity about the pricing structure of the tender contract, which allowed the Olympic Sponsors to add more and more requirements to the contract. G4S simply couldn’t provide the resources asked for, and didn’t communicate that very well.

This raises a second issue with the contract: there was no provision for outsourcing. The authorities wanted to hand the entire £200 million contract to a single security company. This created problems for G4S and seems like a wasted opportunity; Win that Bid has worked with plenty of qualified security companies in London. Many of them were very interested in pursuing Olympic security contracts and were disappointed to find that there were no opportunities for them do so, either because of the sheer scale of the contract or because they were vulnerable to changes in the tender contract. The tender contract isolated G4S; before taking the contract they should have considered their contingency plans in the event the requirements changed, as they usually do in contracts this large and politicised.

Based on these facts, G4S certainly appears to have a strong case to complain about the government’s conduct in this contract. It hasn’t taken that opportunity. Possibly, it simply doesn’t want to jeopardise the security contracts it already has with the government. The political climate and the scale of the bid certainly left G4S in a very poor negotiating position; something that any company should consider before bidding for a tender.

A company trying to win any bid, let alone a security contract, should make sure they plan for contingencies. G4S weren’t prepared for big changes in the contract, and have paid for it.

How will the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 change your bid?

There have been some recent changes in the way that public bodies can take social considerations into account when procuring public contracts. The new Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 aims to clarify the issue a bit.

The Act (applied to public service contracts) creates a statutory requirement for public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts and for connected purposes. However, the Act also states that these decisions must also be directly relevant to what is being produced in the first place. This is roughly equivalent to what the EU procurement regime already allowed for.

From the bid writer’s point of view, the main thing is to look at where the question of Social Value will come up in the tender writing process:

Before the public sector tender is issued: the contracting authority will try to identify non-commercial, social value considerations before they commence the procurement process. This will have a big impact on the technical specifications of the project that a bid writer should take into account.

In the terms of the Contract: if the contracting authority does decide it wants to place emphasis on a particular social need, it might include “special” conditions.

The selection stage: the contracting authority could well reject applicants who don’t meet the non-commercial needs of the contract. Bid writers should make sure that their bid meets those requirement.  For instance, the contracting authority might want to fulfil an environmental consideration and choose a company with a proven record in that area.

The Act states that the selection criteria must be non-discriminatory, proportionate and linked to the subject matter.

Need help writing a public sector tender? Contact one of our team today on 0203405 1850 and we can help.

Changes to government IT procurement

A new IT procurement framework worth £1bn pounds has been announced by the Government Procurement Service. Recently, the government has had some problems with IT public sector tenders, reflecting badly on both its IT procurement methods but also on the obsolete legacy systems being used across the public sector.  It is hoped that this framework will help all government departments (from local authorities to the ministries, the NHS and even the BBC) buy a vast range of different IT services and improve the entire tendering process.

As detailed in the the contract notice, the framework is divided into 35 contract lots each lasting at least two years. These cover a very wide range of different services from “Big Data” (processing and managing large quantities of information) to customer relationship management tools. Other areas covered include various geographical services, HR, and IT security services.

The new IT procurement framework comes hot on the heels of the government’s announcement that it had prepared a list of approved suppliers for the Public Services Network, a marketplace for public sector tenders surrounding communications services that the government hopes will reduce costs. This 28 member list includes a number of well-known brands like Fujitsu and BT, alongside various newer suppliers. According to Francis Maude, the PSN marked “a major milestone by establishing a competitive ICT marketplace at the heart of the public sector.”

The closing date for bids will be July 30th, with a maximum of 680 companies able to enrol. Companies looking to take advantage of the new IT procurement framework can get lots of help from the expert bid writers at Win that Bid.

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.