‘It’s impossible to win local government contracts’ is a myth

Local councils are procuring all sorts of goods, works and services from small businesses and it’s never been easier says executive councillor for Southend-on-Sea Graham Longley

A quarter of a trillion pounds. That’s about what the government spends every year on goods, works and services.

And the introduction of plans to make it easier for small and mid-sized businesses to bid and win public sector contracts means there are significant opportunities to be had including a stable contract, regular income, recognition and growth.

In Southend-on-Sea, in the last year alone we have put out tenders worth approximately £285m. Despite what you might expect, no business is too small to bid for contracts, especially if you can form consortium bids with other small businesses via online platforms.

To get you started, here are some questions you should ask of yourself and your business before beginning the process:

•      Is it going to be profitable?

•      Do we really want to work on it?

•      Can we afford to implement it?

•      Is it a stretch too far for our business?

•      Does it fit in with our business strategy goals and objectives?

•      Is the opportunity core business for us now and in the future?

•      Do we have good references available to demonstrate a proven track record?

•      Could it compromise any existing business relationships and contracts?

•      Can we resource it from existing staff or would we need to recruit new staff?

What procurement officers are looking for

Flexibility: Local government needs suppliers that can move with clear requirements and adapt to a changing environment.

Innovation: Contractors should champion innovation to ensure the best performance and quality service is delivered to the end user.

Competitive price: Price isn’t everything, but we do look at value for money in delivering contracts. This can include investment during the life of the contract as well as adding social value.

Responsive and reliable delivery: Government contracts have strict deadlines for the provision of public services. This means that we expect contractors to keep to schedules and to manage their supply chains effectively.

Collaborative opportunities: Partnerships with other organisations through consortia bids can be attractive as they will often incorporate a larger number of specialities than an individual firm. Small and mid-sized companies could consider a partnership when bidding for a larger local government contract should they be missing a particular area of expertise.

Local knowledge: Bidders of contracts should ensure they sell their knowledge of the local area and the other business/agencies with whom they could work with to deliver the best service possible. When writing your bids, demonstrating the benefits to the local economy, environment and community is a must.

Top tips for navigating the tendering process

1. Express your interest. Before bidding you may need to send an ‘expression of interest’. This is an initial stage which helps buyers see who is interested in their contracts. You may need to provide the council with information required to assess your organisation’s suitability to become a prospective provider. However this has become less common in recent years as ‘open’ procedures have become favoured – good news for businesses like yours!

2. Preparing your invitation to tender response. If you’re put on the shortlist you’ll receive an ‘invitation to tender’ (ITT) or a contract notice inviting you to bid for the contract. You can use this checklist when preparing your response:

•      Read the ITT documentation carefully and answer ALL questions accurately: this will also help you decide whether your organisation is suitable for this contract

•      Use examples/cases studies to illustrate your point and prove experience

•      Use graphs/diagrams to make a point and stay within word count

•      Quality is the most important issue, followed by value. Cheaper isn’t always better

•      Look for support – for example, Southend runs training sessions to help guide businesses through this process

•      Focus on possible social benefits: will this benefit the area through employment/investment?

•      Ask questions

•      Take note of the weighting for each question – e.g. spend more time on a technical question that is weighted as 10% of the total score than one which only carries 2%

•      Check you are not submitting any information that hasn’t been requested

•      Always meet the deadline- don’t be late to submit

•      Get feedback from the Procurement Team – consider it and use it to help you next time.

Graham Longley is executive councillor and deputy leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. www.businessonsea.co.uk

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