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SMEs are tendering and winning more contracts in the public sector than ever before – here’s how to join them

15 Sept 2021

The opportunity for public procurement on the island of Ireland is currently valued in excess of £11bn/€13bn per annum, with £7.6bn/€9bn in Ireland and approximately £3.5bn/€4bn in Northern Ireland. This scale of opportunity should encourage companies of all sizes to actively consider and apply for public sector tendering contracts.

Public contracts can be used as part of a strategy to buffer against economic cycles, as not only do these provide greater continuity of procurement but also there is minimal risk of non-payment. Success in the public procurement market is already happening for many businesses and if you wish to be a part of it, the pandemic has created a number of major ‘catch-up opportunities’.

Some sub-sectors have been starved of investment as resources were directed towards dealing with the challenges of Covid-19. Others have established new models of operation in a post-pandemic world such as health and well-being, cyber security, education, government video communications and conferencing.

As we emerge from the pandemic, sectors like renewables, utilities and construction are all being primed for investment by major corporate firms and government seeking to prioritise economic recovery. Not only do these represent private sector supply chains but also present considerable opportunities in the public sector for SMEs across the island.

Can SMEs win these contracts?

Of course, they can. One of the issues SMEs often face is that they are not sure where to find contract opportunities in the public sector, or that they are cautious about tendering. However, this should not prevent them from pursuing public sector opportunities for two reasons. The first being that opportunities are there and data confirms that SMEs are already working through the steps to successfully win contracts. Secondly, for those who need more guidance on navigating the tendering process, help is readily at hand.

Success for SMEs is already happening

There are close to 200 frameworks in operation on the island of Ireland, with approximately 150 operated by Office of Government Procurement (OGP) across Ireland and 50 operated by the Construction and Procurement Delivery in Northern Ireland. Out of these 150, OGP data confirms that SMEs make up 70 per cent of all framework members.

Success for businesses has been encouraged by public procurement rules in Northern Ireland and Ireland that make frameworks more accessible by ensuring that public sector contracts are broken into lots. The smaller packages and contract sizes mean small firms can deliver and meet the qualification requirements needed. It also facilitates and encourages collaboration between companies enabling them to bid for, win and deliver larger, higher value contracts.

This can be a stepping stone to further opportunities across this island and Great Britain where the public procurement opportunity is substantial – currently valued at £11bn per annum in Scotland and over £260bn in England and Wales.

SMEs are dominating the numbers in terms of framework participation and winning tenders. In addition, public sector buyers do want to work with small companies, as businesses owners tend to be invested in securing positive outcomes and are often agile, innovative and very accessible.

Help is at hand

Awarding a tender can often come down to small scoring differences, it is a competitive market and any advice can make a difference. InterTradeIreland’s Go-2-Tender programme helps SMEs to improve tendering capability through practical workshops and 1 to 1 company specific mentoring packages. The Go-2-Tender workshops help businesses to analyse the public sector market and consider the most appropriate bids to pursue. More importantly – and with the addition of supporting mentoring packages – they support businesses to develop stronger bid content to improve the “win rate.”

How? By supporting SMEs:

Develop the right bid strategy; Companies should prioritise and focus on tenders that offer the best chance of success, whether in terms of sub-sector, size, geography or technical requirements. Go-2-Tender workshops can also help companies to decide when not to pursue a bid and the thought process around this.

Gain a greater level of awareness of the public procurement market and where to find sources of intelligence in relation to upcoming pipelines. This enables firms to identify contract opportunities and prepare in advance of these appearing as live bids.

Develop a bid library and write bid content in an engaging and clear way - improving case studies, capability and method statements.

Who can benefit?

Workshops are open to SMEs that want to improve bid performance, target new sub-sectors of the public sector market and win more public contracts as part of their overall growth strategy. A series of Go-2-Tender workshops are available throughout 2021 and 2022 for businesses in Supplies & Services, Construction and Health.

Win a share of the market

For businesses in Ireland and Northern Ireland, there has never been a better time to access the public procurement market. Opportunities for SMEs are at an all-time high and frameworks are more accessible than ever before. Previous participants of the Go-2-Tender programme have reported winning tenders valued at £85m/€100m so you do not want to miss out. 70 per cent of framework participants are already SMEs and InterTradeIreland can help you win a share of the public sector market.

Martin McBride has supported SMEs and large companies in their work to win business in the public sector for more than 20 years. He is a vastly experienced bid consultant and trainer – winning procurement awards for the delivery of Go-2-Tender and works with ambitious private clients.In the last six years Martin has been a Programme Trainer and Mentor for Go-2-Tender, which is delivered by Envision on behalf of InterTradeIreland He has delivered workshops on tendering across Ireland and Scotland and led major bids for private clients across those jurisdictions.

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