Tendering

We’ve written a book!

I know, I know, i’ve not blogged for ages and ages. Why is that? Well, there are lots of reasons, but the primary one is that I have been busy writing a book! “Winning Tenders” has now been published and you can buy your copy on Amazon, either in paperback form or as a Kindle book. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but this year I committed to write it as part of my 2014 objectives. By pure coincidence, a very good business contact – Charlie Hutton, whose business is http://www.hutchinsonwebdesign.com/ launched a new service, helping budding authors to write a book within 6 weeks! So, the challenge was set, and the outcome is here:

Product Details

 

I’ve also worked hard to produce my second newsletter, if you want your copy please get in touch via email and I’ll add you to the mailing list. There are two formats – an emailable pdf version, or you can have a proper, traditional newsletter that drops through your letterbox in a stamped envelope.

So, now you know why there has been a bit of a time gap between my last blog post and this one, but hopefully they will be a bit more regular from now on!!

Keeping your cool!

So, it’s great news. You’ve just received notification that – subject to the ten day standstill period – your company has been awared the contract that you tendered for! Time to get the champagne out, right? Wrong! The letter you have received is a notification of intent, so don’t start celebrating just yet. You can, by all means, contact the awarding body and make preparations for the contract award, but until the standstill period has concluded, and you receive confirmation of signature of the contract, it is possible that a challenge may be launched by another bidder who was unsuccessful. There have been many high profile examples of this, including the West Coast Rail franchise award, where ultimately the whole process was abandoned due to an error in the scoring process.

There is also a tendency, once you have won the contract and you have signed the contract, to breathe a sigh of relief, relax and think that everything is great. Winning the contract is just the beginning of the hard work. You need to forge relationships with the people you will now be working with, establish exactly what they require and how they require it. A familiarisation process needs to take place where you get to know their team and vice-versa.

The other piece of advice I would offer to you is this. Once you have secured the contract, ask for candid feedback about your submission. What were the good points? What needed to be improved? What made your bid the stand out document that led to the contract award. Very few, if any, companies who win contracts ever ask for feedback, but this is critical if you are to use that knowledge to help you with future bids.

Congratulations on winning that bid, celebrate at the appropriate time, but make sure you learn from the process too – that learning will help you to go on and win other tenders.

Contract Win!

So, it’s great news. You’ve just received notification that – subject to the ten day standstill period – your company has been awared the contract that you tendered for! Time to get the champagne out, right? Wrong! The letter you have received is a notification of intent, so don’t start celebrating just yet. You can, by all means, contact the awarding body and make preparations for the contract award, but until the standstill period has concluded, and you receive confirmation of signature of the contract, it is possible that a challenge may be launched by another bidder who was unsuccessful. There have been many high profile examples of this, including the West Coast Rail franchise award, where ultimately the whole process was abandoned due to an error in the scoring process.

There is also a tendency, once you have won the contract and you have signed the contract, to breathe a sigh of relief, relax and think that everything is great. Winning the contract is just the beginning of the hard work. You need to forge relationships with the people you will now be working with, establish exactly what they require and how they require it. A familiarisation process needs to take place where you get to know their team and vice-versa.

The other piece of advice I would offer to you is this. Once you have secured the contract, ask for candid feedback about your submission. What were the good points? What needed to be improved? What made your bid the stand out document that led to the contract award. Very few, if any, companies who win contracts ever ask for feedback, but this is critical if you are to use that knowledge to help you with future bids.

Congratulations on winning that bid, celebrate at the appropriate time, but make sure you learn from the process too – that learning will help you to go on and win other tenders.

Living Wage

An increasing number of tenders issued by public bodies are incorporating requirements into contracts awarded for suppliers to pay their staff the living wage. This is currently set at £8.55 per hour for those in London and £7.45 for those outside London. The national minimum wage is currently £6.19 per hour. A lot of companies have contacted me to ask whether public bodies can legally include this term within contracts.

The simple answer to this question is yes, they can. However, it is never that straightforward. Public bodies need to consider this on a case by case basis and the requirement should apply to all bidders equally. Further, the European Commission clarified this issue as far back as 2009, when it stated that “living wage conditions must concern only the employees involved in the execution of the relevant contract, and may not be extended to other employees of the contractor.” The requirement to pay the Living Wage should be clearly indicated either in the OJEU notice or the tender documentation, there should be no surprises at contract award stage.

The Living Wage Foundation has conducted research amongst those businesses who have committed to pay the living wage to determine the benefits. They include: staff leaving rates fell by 25%, 54% of employees felt more positive about their work place and companies stated that it had enabled them to attract new business and customers.

So, if you see a contract advertised with a living wage requirement, don’t dismiss it as out of hand. There are clear business benefits to paying the living wage, and it may increase your chances of securing new contract successes.

Can Small Businesses Tender for Contracts?

I’m often told that public sector bodies are not geared up to deal with small and medium sized businesses, and as a result, the tenders they publish are not small business friendly. I think in some cases that is very true, but I honestly think there is a change in attitude towards small businesses, and small businesses can certainly win contracts to deliver public sector services.

About 8 months ago I met a Cabinet Office representative who told me about the Mystery Shopper scheme that Cabinet Office operates. In a nutshell, this initiative enables businesses to flag public sector procurement activity they believe to be unfair or discriminatory in some way to small businesses. The Cabinet Office will then investigate and hopefully changes will be made to the procurement process. But does it work?

The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude last week stated that by mid-February, Cabinet Office had been notified of 151 cases to investigate, of which 111 had been closed and of those, 75% had resulted in a positive outcome (either a change to that particular procurement activity, or to future activities).

I have had first hand experience of this Mystery Shopper service on behalf of one of my clients. I emailed the Mystery Shopper team at 5.30pm, and received a personal response at 6.30am the following morning, supported by a telephone call at 9.15am the same day. The Mystery Shopper team listened to the concerns I had (businesses under three years old were being excluded from the procurement), agreed to investigate, and promised to keep me up to date with their progress. The level of service I received from that team was nothing short of exceptional, I was provided with regular updates, an indicative timescale of their actions and other detail about the Mystery Shopper activity.

In the case I raised, the authority managing the procurement activity did indeed revise the procurement guidance in light of the direct intervention of the Cabinet Office, and my client therefore became able to tender for the contract. The submission put forward is being evaluated currently, but whatever the outcome, the client was pleased that they were able to tender.

So, in my experience, the Government does appear to be taking seriously the potential that smaller businesses have to deliver public contracts. They also appear to be serious about changing procurement practices. And, perhaps most importantly of all, procurement professionals working within the public sector appear to be willing to listen, and respond to the concerns small businesses are raising around procurement. Again, I saw this first hand with a local authority who pro-actively went out to the market and asked small businesses how they could make the procurement process more ‘small business friendly’.

To quote a great songwriter, “The times, they are a changing”

Where Do I Find Tenders?

One of the statements I hear most often from customers and potential customers is, “Why didn’t I know that xyz local authority was tendering that contract? I could have done that work.”  The inference is that the tendering authority concerned should have made contact with the company, and invited them to tender. My response is always something along the lines of, if you want to work with a publicly funded organisation, the emphasis is on you to find the contracts.

So, that begs the question, where do I find tenders?

There are lots of web portals that provide details of tender opportunities. Some are free to use, others require you to subscribe for a fee. Lots make claims about how many tenders they publish, and I don’t intend to get into which one is the best because frankly, they are all slightly different and it very much depends on your business as to which one is relevant to you.

I always recommend that businesses start by registering with Contracts Finder http://www.contractsfinder.businesslink.gov.uk/

This is a free to use portal, that carries details of public sector contracts with a value greater than £10,000. Contracts Finder is used by central government departments, non departmental public bodies, NHS, local authorities and prime contractors to Government departments. As well as detailing live opportunities, it also gives information on contracts that have been awarded. A daily email update is sent to you outlining new opportunities that are available.

Contracts Finder will give information about the contract and details of what steps you need to take to register an interest, or to download relevant documentation that will allow you to gauge whether or not the opportunity is one that is suitable for your business.

So, as a place to start, Contracts Finder is not bad. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t perfect, but you could do a lot worse. If you would like details of other procurement portals that exist, then do let me know!