Have you put in bids on government contracts?
It’s a lucrative field to get into and in the last few years, more public sector contracts have been outsourced to private contractors as the government looks for ways to find savings on efficiency.
In fact, if you know where to look and what to do to get through the tender process, there are a number of opportunities for contractors that come up with some regularity. Here’s a quick run-down of what you need to know:
The basics of public sector tenders
One of the first questions people wonder about lately is the impact of Brexit on public sector procurement. Article 50 was triggered as of March 29, 2017, the beginning of the formal process for Britain’s exit of the EU.
Currently, public procurement in the UK is based on EU law under the Public Contracts Regulations (PCR). The main thrust of these laws is that they aim to create an even playing field across Europe.
The laws set out how public bodies are required to advertise contracts that are above certain thresholds (these are different for local versus central government). For contracts that fall above those thresholds, they must follow regulations for how they assess and award those as well as publish the opportunity in OJEU, open to contractors across the UK and Europe. Lower value contracts must still be advertised publically, however they may appear in tender portals rather than the OJEU.
In the event of Brexit, there is still uncertainty as to how procurement rules will be affected, although expert opinion predicts the rules won’t alter much. If anything, it is suspected that there may be more of a focus on local social impact when procuring for within the UK. Current rules state that EU-based companies have equal rights to consideration as UK-based contractors and public authorities have an obligation to award based on “best value.” A major difference between public and private sector tendering is that the public sector are held to a level of transparency and accountability that private companies are not. You should be able to see exactly why contracts were awarded.
The procurement process
The current procurement process for contracts which must be advertised throughout Europe looks like this:
- A Prior Information Notice (PIN) is published in OJEU. The purpose of this is to let people know there is an opportunity coming up.
- A Contract Notice (CN) is advertised inviting bids for the tender.
- Bids are considered based on the type of procurement procedure being followed (see the diagram below).
- The contract is awarded and a CAN (Contract Award Notice) is published in OJEU. The law states that the government requires a Contracting Authority to complete all but the most complex procurements within 120 working days from publication of Contract Notice to Award. That 120 day deadline isn’t always adhered to though, sometimes it’s more like 150 – 160 days.
Shine Bid Services outlines the different types of procurement procedures in the diagram below. (Note: “CA” is for Contracting Authority):
You’ll see from the diagram above that four out of the five procurement processes use a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ). The purpose of this is to evaluate your capability to deliver on the contract, identify suitable contractors, then create a shortlist of those who will be invited to tender.
The government authority does not have to disclose their criteria for selection at this point, however they are advised to as a best practice in the interests of transparency. Factors may include things like your financial standing, professional ability and technical proficiency.
To give yourself a better chance of getting through the PQQ stage, you can prepare ahead:
- Look for a PQQ from a past contract similar to the one you’re interested in and familiarise yourself with the content
- Keep a file with your best case studies written up and kept up-to-date. This helps to give you documents to work with when it’s time to write your PQQ
- Decide on referees and brief them before including them in the documentation
- Prioritise pre-market engagement. Build relationships with government buyers that you’d like to do business with and find out more about their challenges and priorities. Attend any Supplier Days they hold and engage with them when they ask for market input
Tips for submitting your bid
So you’ve found a government contract you’d like to bid on – what can you do to ensure you’ve got a good shot at winning? We’ve written previously about how to prepare a winning tender and those tips still count, but here are some extras to consider when bidding on government contracts:
Highlight any social impacts
Social impacts, such as employment opportunities for local communities and other general benefits that will be felt locally are always good to highlight in your proposal. There has been growing focus on social impact and “localness” over the last few years, with the acknowledgement that the local impact of projects must be considered.
A glance at UK government policy priorities for procurement shows that factors such as apprenticeships and skills, a clear social impact, rate as high priorities. Public contracts worth £10 million or more, which last 12 months or longer, should support skills development and the government’s commitment to creating 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. There’s a good chance that highlighting skills and apprenticeships will be viewed well, even on smaller contracts.
Another priority is for government spending to go to small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs), with a commitment to ensuring 33% of spending is allocated to businesses of this nature by 2020. If you are a large contractor, your hiring of SMEs as suppliers or subcontractors will be seen in a good light, while if you are a SME, this priority makes it easier for you to compete.Highlight any positive social impacts in your bid for government projects Click To Tweet
Stick to the point
Be direct and benefit-driven with your language. Answer all parts of the documentation concisely and avoid any excessive use of buzzwords or “salesy” language. The Contracting Authority wants to know that you’re capable of doing a good job, but no one enjoys reading through something that is too salesy.
Emphasise any added value
“Added value” should be a key concern in your bid. It’s often the case that the company awarded the contract wasn’t the one with the best price, but the one who could offer a whole package of value.
What might be considered “added value?” Here are some tips:
- Using any kind of local labour, services, subcontractors or works departments. This comes back to those priorities on social impact.
- Highlighting specific experience or expertise that makes your company a clear choice over others. For example, if you were the only bidder with a specific sort of experience or certification, this may be to your advantage.
- Training or apprenticeships for local people.
- Include any ideas for additional services beyond the scope of the contract that could result in financial or operational benefits.
Consider environmental objectives
Sustainable procurement is another government objective you should be aware of and use to your advantage where possible. The green opportunity for construction firms is significant in the public sector, with the Greening Government Commitments set out to reduce environmental impact.
To this end, highlighting the sustainable construction practices of your firm, along with your expertise in green buildings, will add weight to your bid. Energy efficiency and sustainability are clear priorities moving forward for government.
Use a bid writer
There’s often a tendency of businesses who don’t use an experienced bid writer to fall into all sorts of pitfalls with the bidding process. For example, perhaps they end up bidding on everything, no matter how suitable. Often companies will then fall into bad habits like reusing past tender content (even where it wasn’t successful) or simply failing to stop and learn lessons from those tenders when they weren’t successful.
Using a professional (or very experienced) bid writer can help with this. For bid writers, win rate is a key performance indicator, so their focus is on writing a quality, tailored bid every time.
Tendering for government projects is highly competitive, but can provide you with stable, lucrative contracts if you win. The key is to understand the process well and know which “buttons” to push when it comes to the priorities of the government body.
Know the unique value you can provide and emphasise anything you can do in relation to those key government priorities. Write the bid uniquely for each contract opportunity and look for any lessons you can take away from those that aren’t successful.
All the best for your bidding!