5 Top Tips for successful bids in the Public Procurement

Public Sector Spending

In 2013/2014, the UK public sector spent £242 billion on the procurement of goods and services (33% of public sector spending).  25% of this spend was with small and medium enterprises.  In its 2015 manifesto, the Conservative Party included a pledge to increase the percentage of public contracts awarded to SMEs to a third. 

For those that dedicate the time and resource to searching for and bidding for public contracts, the rewards can be huge.  With a number of large infrastructure projects on the horizon, including HS2, now is the perfect time to look at whether your business can benefit from the public contracts on offer.

1. Be Selective
One of the most important aspects of bidding for public contracts is ensuring enough time is dedicated to each bid submission.  There can be a temptation to bid for as many contracts as possible, but this can be counterproductive as tenders are often time consuming and complicated.  

It is important to consider whether your organisation can meet the basic requirements of the contract.  Many ITTs give minimum requirements for insurance, turnover etc. and will look at whether there is a track record of similar work. 

It is also important to consider what effect winning the contract would have on your business; do you have the capacity to perform the contract without affecting your existing customers?  Many publicly funded contracts, particularly if structured as framework agreements, give no guarantee of work volumes so you need to assess what levels of work will result if you win.

2. Understand the Requirements
Understand what the public authority is looking for in a bid.  In most cases they will set out the scoring and weighting that will be given to each bid section when the total scores are calculated.  If something is unclear, ask for clarification before the clarification deadline ends.  However, be careful; clarification questions and responses will usually be shared with other bidders.  This can give away any business advantage you may have over your competitors.

3. Writing the bid
Start early!  It is essential to ensure that enough time and resources are committed to each bid.  When composing responses to the ITT, it’s important to look at the small print and adhere to rules on clarification deadlines, submission deadlines, word limits and methods of submission.  Authorities can and do reject bids for not complying with these rules and in competitive tenders this can be an easy way to lower the number of bids being evaluated.  You won’t be granted an extension for delivering late bids and remember it can be notoriously difficult to upload bids.

It’s important to bear in mind your USP when answering the ITT questions.  Don’t just rely on a technical approach – emphasise your previous experience, approach and how this has led you to be successful.  Tailor your response to the question being asked and the organisation asking it.

Do not assume the evaluator has the same technical understanding as you.  Avoid using jargon and if using acronyms make sure they’re explained at the start.  If various members of your business will contribute to the bid, make sure there is one leader to read the almost-finalised document, check for inconsistencies and ensure the final version reads as one professional cohesive bid.

4. Add Value
Most tenders are evaluated on whether the bids give ‘value for money’, or if the contract exceeds certain thresholds it will be evaluated on whether it is the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (memorably often shortened to “MEAT”).  

Value for money or being ‘economically advantageous’ is not just about price.  Public authorities will look for bidders who can provide them with the best combination of cost, quality and sustainability to meet customers’ needs over the lifetime of the contract.

Being the cheapest bidder doesn’t necessarily mean you will be successful.  There are many ways organisations can add value or give other benefits to public authorities which will justify their awarding the contract to a company which is not the cheapest.  Be creative and innovative, and think about social value as well as monetary value for the public authority.  For example, you could offer to provide additional services not required as part of the ITT but that you have experience in providing and know would be a benefit for the type of contract you are bidding for.

Public authorities can reject a bid if in their view the price the bidder has put forward is too low.  They may ask questions about the price before rejecting the bid, so if you have put forward what may seem like a very low price for your goods or services, make sure you’re able to explain how this has been calculated, how it’s achievable and whether it’s sustainable over the contract life.

5. Review your Results
If your bid is successful, make sure you perform the contract to the best of your ability and as you said you would in your bid.  It will be easier to demonstrate a successful track record when the contract is renewed if you are the incumbent provider and you have a good relationship with the authority making the decisions.

If your bid is not successful, the public authority is obliged to give feedback on why not.  You should use this to consider how you can improve for the next time you bid. 

If you suspect that your bid has not been evaluated correctly or the public authority has not followed their own scoring methodology, take legal advice on your options.  It is possible to stop the contract being awarded and challenge the decision made by the public authority, but you must act quickly if there has been a problem with the procurement process. 

In order to stop the contract from being awarded you need to issue proceedings within 10 days of the award decision being made, and for a damages claim you must issue proceedings within 30 days of becoming aware that there is a problem with the way the procurement process was carried out (in some circumstances this may be before the award decision is even made).

The Gateley Plc Procurement team has a wealth of experience in advising organisations tendering for contracts and looking at whether they can challenge a decision once it has been made.  For a fixed fee our team can:-

1.    Provide a ‘traffic light report’ on the legal ramifications of the ITT and the Contract and produce suggested clarification questions;
2.    Discuss the report and any questions arising out of this or the ITT/Contract with you;
3.    Finalise the clarification questions; and
4.    Report on and discuss with you the public authority’s response to the clarification questions.

The team will also agree a fixed fee for reviewing the merits of any potential claim if you suspect that the tender process or bid marking has not been carried out correctly.  

For more information please contact Kate Canning or Neil Warner .