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Public Sector Contracts for Small Agencies
Have you Considered Public Sector Contracts?
Do you know how much the UK government spends on communications? In the last ten years, it has spent approximately £3.4 bn, with £247m of that in the last reported year.
That’s a lot of monies.
I tried to find a similar figure for local government, but it isn’t easy to pick out from the published spending data. Overall, local government spends around £100bn each year in total. Even if they spend just 1% on communications, that’s £1bn.
So how do you get your mitts on some of those public sector pounds?
Mostly, it’s through a formal tender process, which, let’s face it, can be intimidating if you are an SME, more so if you haven’t been through the process before.
There are plenty of reasons why small agencies refrain from pursuing tender opportunities. Here’s a handful:
Lack of awareness: you may not know about the opportunities in the public sector tendering process or how to find relevant tenders.
Complexity: The public sector tendering process can be complex and time-consuming. You may need more resources or expertise to navigate the process as a small agency. We’re talking lengthy paperwork, detailed technical specifications, and strict deadlines.
Lack of experience: you may not have the experience or track record to compete successfully in the public sector tendering process. The tender documents will specify specific skills, qualifications, and experience you may not have at your agency.
Cost and risk: Tendering for public sector contracts can be expensive in time and materials. With the perception that public sector procurement often has a supplier in mind before going through the tender process and that the list of bidders can be high, is the cost worth it? The risk of investing time and money and not winning is high.
Overall, the public sector tendering process is challenging for small agencies to navigate. However, it’s possible.
Over the last few years, I have been successful at helping various agencies to win through a public tender process for local government and third-sector contracts.
How do you find public sector contracts for small agencies?
There are a few places to start digging:
Government portals: The UK Government has several portals with public sector tender opportunities listed, including the Contracts Finder website, which provides access to thousands of opportunities for contracts with the UK Government and its agencies.
Local authorities: you can also find public sector tenders from local authorities, such as city councils, district councils, and county councils. These tenders are published on a local authority’s website or procurement portals.
Public sector agencies: you can also find public sector tender opportunities from public sector agencies, such as the National Health Service (NHS), Transport for London (TfL), and the Environment Agency. These agencies often list their tenders on their websites or procurement portals.
Tender notification services: you can sign up for tender notification services, which will provide regular updates on relevant tender opportunities, including:
Tenders Direct: Tenders Direct is a free online portal where you search for public sector tender opportunities in the UK. There is a paid subscription service for more comprehensive search capabilities.
Supply2Gov: Supply2Gov is a free online portal that provides access to public sector tender opportunities in the UK and Ireland.
CompeteFor: CompeteFor is a free online portal connecting SMEs with public sector tender opportunities in London and the UK.
Contracts Advance: Contracts Advance is an online portal providing SMEs access to public sector tender opportunities in the UK.
TED (Tenders Electronic Daily): TED is a free online portal you can search for public sector tender opportunities in the UK and throughout the EU.
Aren’t public sector contracts just for large corporates?
Actually, no. There is legislation that requires public sector bodies in the UK to make tenders available to small companies too.
The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 is the legislation that governs public sector procurement in the UK. It requires public sector bodies to ensure their procurement processes are fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory and provide equal opportunities for all suppliers, including SMEs.
In particular, Regulation 57 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 sets out the rules for ensuring SMEs have access to public sector tender opportunities. The regulation requires public sector bodies to:
- Ensure that their tender processes encourage SME participation and that SMEs are not excluded from the procurement process.
- Divide contracts into lots or sub-contracts, where appropriate, to facilitate SME participation.
- Consider excluding suppliers not complying with social, environmental, or labour laws.
- Provide feedback to unsuccessful bidders, including SMEs, to help them improve their future bids.
In addition, the UK government set a target to ensure that 33% of all public sector procurement spending goes to SMEs by 2022. I can’t find any report suggesting whether or not it hit this target, though.
How to Win Public Sector Contracts
Here are some closing thoughts on what you can do to give yourself the best chance of winning work in the public sector.
Research and identify opportunities: use the portals to refine the tender opportunities to match your specific skills. Make sure you sign-up for the tender alerts services, particularly where they are free. There are several that charge a subscription or fee for alerts, so watch out for these.
Understand the requirements: it’s essential to read and understand the tender requirements carefully, including the technical specifications, delivery timelines, and evaluation criteria. Make sure you meet the requirements and have the capacity to deliver the project or service before investing time in the tender process.
Build relationships: Building relationships with public sector organisations can benefit small agencies. How? Attend networking events, participate in supplier engagement sessions, and meet with procurement officers where possible.
Demonstrate value for money: Public sector organisations are required to obtain value for money in their procurement activities. You should focus on demonstrating you can deliver high-quality services or products at a competitive price.
Provide evidence of experience and capability: Public sector organisations will want to see proof of your experience and capability. Make sure you can provide case studies, references, and other evidence to demonstrate you have the necessary skills and expertise to deliver the project or service.
Prepare a high-quality bid: you should prepare a high-quality, well-written, concise proposal that addresses all of the tender’s requirements. Provide evidence demonstrating your understanding of the project, your ability to deliver, and the benefits you will bring to the public sector organisation.
Don’t be restricted to the formatting of the tender docs; use your own formatted documents to present yourself in the best light – many agencies won’t do this.
Understand the criteria: above all, read and understand the evaluation criteria. Often this will be weighted highly on cost, which might not be the right project for your agency. Write your bid in plain English, too, as the procurement officer will likely not have bought agency services before, so you need to drop the BS bingo.
Seek feedback: you should seek feedback on your bid, whether you win the contract or not. This can help you improve future bids and better understand the requirements of public sector organisations.
How can Agency Squared Help?
Get in touch if you want to win more public sector projects for your small agency. We may be able to help increase your win rates and access some of the enormous amounts of money spent by government and local authorities on comms projects every year.