In this section you will find a wide range of resources to help you prepare for public sector tendering opportunities. There are ‘top tips’ documents to download, video case studies to watch, presentations to read and an FAQs section to peruse. You can also look through our extensive archive of blogs and insights.
In this section you will find a wide range of resources to help you prepare for public sector tendering.
10 tips to help you tender successfully for public sector contracts
The all-island public procurement market represents significant opportunities for small organisations to increase their sales and win steady business. Here are some useful tips to help you find tendering success.
Why don't more construction SMEs tender for public sector contracts?
Why SMEs should tender for public sector contracts
Central Procurement Bodies (CPBs) are the national lead bodies in public procurement policy, and practice. These are the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) in Ireland, and Construction & Procurement Delivery (CPD) in Northern Ireland.
In Ireland OGP has oversight of procurement, working in conjunction with other ‘pillar’ bodies in Local Government, Health, Education, and Defence.
The term CoPE (Centre of Procurement Expertise) is used in Northern Ireland to refer to NI ‘pillar’ bodies that are authorised to carry out public procurement – in Heath, Education, Transport and Water Utilities, and Housing.
First, for every winner, there has to be more than one loser. So, failing occasionally is part of the tender experience, however the data suggests that the margins between winning and losing are small.
Some tenders fail because some of the documents or requirements were just left out – the bid was not complete, but this is quite rare. Mostly, tenders fail because they did not address the requirement as thoroughly as perhaps they could. Perhaps not ‘selling’ the team’s expertise well enough, or not detailing the work plan clearly enough; or perhaps not satisfying the buyer about the approach to managing risks. These are all straightforward things can be improved to increase win rates.
Yes. Evidence is that approx. 70% of framework members are SMEs and over 70% of tenders are won by SMEs. So, SMEs are very successful in the public sector market on the Island of Ireland.
There are two sets of Thresholds
Tender thresholds are: Ireland €25,000; and Northern Ireland £30,000. Above these numbers, buyers use full formal tender procedures (following clearly defined tender rules) using the e-Tenders platforms in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Below those numbers, buyers follow guidelines in relation to quotations. Above €5k / £5k buyers generally seek three quotations or proposals (not full tenders).
Moving up the value scale – in Ireland, the European threshold is €139,000 and tenders above that value appear on the European platform TED as well as on e-Tenders.gov.ie.
In Northern Ireland – now outside the EU, the upper threshold is £122,976 (Ref the new UK Find a Tender Portal), and above that value, tenders appear on Find a Tender as well as on e-Tenders NI.
The most immediate sources of information are e-Tenders in Ireland (https://www.etenders.gov.ie/) and in Northern Ireland (https://etendersni.gov.uk/epps/home.do ). These websites provide information on:
- Immediate tender opportunities in Ireland and Northern Ireland; and past tender opportunities in Ireland and Northern Ireland
- Looking at past opportunities can help you understand how to prepare for and address the requirements for future bids.
There is information available on future opportunities from OGP in Ireland (https://ogp.gov.ie/schedule-of-frameworks-and-contracts/) and CPD in Northern Ireland (https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/topics/procurement) and there are other sources of intelligence depending on your sector.
Opportunities in Great Britain can be tracked through Public Contracts Scotland, Sell to Wales, and Find A Tender (the latter is the new UK portal for larger contract opportunities). Opportunities across the EU can be identified through TED (Tenders European Daily).
The Go-2-Tender Programme can help you to understand these information sources, and the opportunities in the public procurement market.
Below threshold (Ireland €25k; Northern Ireland £30k) buyers follow guidelines in relation to quotations. Above £5k/€5k buyers generally seek three quotations or proposals (not full tenders).
SMEs need to take a proactive approach to establishing awareness and identifying opportunities with agencies that may offer below threshold opportunities – find out who the key contacts are, send them information, talk to them, find out about the opportunities that they may have below threshold, and show willingness to quote for these smaller jobs.
There is no requirement to publish below threshold opportunities. Agencies may post them on their own web sites, for information; but SMEs need to be proactive – mentor support under the Go-2-Tender Programme can help you to develop a proactive plan to target below threshold opportunities.
The InterTradeIreland Go-2-Tender Programme provides comprehensive support to SMEs across the Island of Ireland targeting the public sector market. The Programme provides businesses with workshop training tailored to different sectors, and addressing the opportunities of Collaboration; supported with 1:1 mentor support – the mentor support package is tailored to suit the specific tender opportunities and challenges that you are working on. Click here for more detail.
There are three stages.
- Mandatory Criteria – relating to your financial standing, ensuring that you have not fallen foul of any disqualifying criteria or circumstances ,and that you have (can get) insurance, etc.
- Selection Criteria – that relate your businesses’ capacity and technical capability to do the job: the team, the skills, and the experience of similar work.
- Award Criteria – at this stage tenders are awarded on the basis of being the Most Economically Advantageous (MEAT). This is assessed as a balance between quality (understanding of requirement, product specification, methodology / work plan, & environmental considerations) and price. The weighting between quality and price can of course vary substantially – from being price dominant, to being quality dominant – depending on the bid.
You should understand these criteria fully (and how you can address them) before deciding to bid.
Yes, they are – and the confirmation (for example, from OGP in Ireland) is that 70% of framework members are SMEs and around 70% of tenders are won by SMEs.
The procurement guidelines promote increased access for SMEs through a combination of:
- Greater use of frameworks – which have lotting strategies that facilitate SMEs – smaller lots suitable for smaller businesses.
- Lower turnover and insurance thresholds that are proportionate with the smaller lot sizes.
- Encouraging collaboration and making the formation of collaborations easy under procurement rules – to enable SMEs to pursue larger bids and larger framework lots, collectively.
The detail of these guidelines can be found at:
Ireland: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c23f5-public-procurement-guidelines-for-goods-and-services/, and https://constructionprocurement.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/circular-10-14.pdf
Northern Ireland: https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/topics/procurement/procurement-policy-and-guidance
Go-2-Tender goes into the detail of the procurement guidelines, and focuses on how SMEs can take advantage of the opportunities emerging as a result of these new guidelines being implemented.
This can be a challenge. However, if you do not have 3 years accounts, you can provide statutory accounts for the period available (maybe 1 year) management accounts for year 2, and perhaps a projection for year 3. It is important that at least one of the figures presented for turnover exceeds the minimum requested; and it’s better if 2 of the three figures exceed the minimum required; e.g. The actual figure in the year 2 management accounts and the projected year 3 figure. An upward trajectory helps.
It also makes sense to confirm (in a clarification question) that this will be accepted before going to the trouble of completing the bid.
Other options are of course, to collaborate with another business (as a full bid partner), or to subcontract to a lead contractor to gain experience and grow your business.
In some sub-sectors this may be the case due to particular circumstances. Overall the public sector is seeking to make the public market more accessible, and keeping any escalation in insurance requirements in check is part of that. Consistent with the public procurement principle of ‘proportionality’ insurance levels should be kept in proportion with the size of the contract opportunity. If the requirement seems disproportionate, ask a question – if others do too, the insurance requirement may be revisited.
The turnover requirement is that you must have a turnover twice the size of the contract value. So a business with a €500k turnover can bid for a €250k contract. However, you also have to decide if it’s a good idea (from a business risk perspective) to have one contact and one customer accounting for half of your revenue – might it be better to target three contracts of: €100k, €75,000, €75,000?
Of course not. The public sector wants good suppliers and value for the money for the taxpayer is not always delivered by the ‘cheapest’. Some contracts may be driven by price and some companies pursue contracts driven by price – if they can deliver on the basis of efficiency and automation and still make it sustainable. But many have weightings that are more in favour of quality (with 60-70% weighting). 80% + quality weighting is quite rare.
The public sector is wary of what is called ‘abnormally low pricing’. This is always checked carefully, and on occasion tender responses with abnormally low prices will be eliminated.
Yes, ever more important. These have historically been part of the mandatory (pass/fail) requirements – we could get away with quite general commitments about environmental aspirations and intentions. Increasingly, this is not enough, bidders have to set very specific objectives, identify very specific actions and timelines in relation to carbon neutrality, biodiversity, and other aspects of sustainability. Of course, this varies by sector, but it will be coming to all sectors gradually in 2022 – 2023. Governments have set challenging targets, and tenderers will have to help them meet these targets.
This is about businesses that win public contracts ‘giving a little back’ in some way – proportionate to the size of the contact. So, on small value projects, small measures. In difficult economic times, social measures generally relate to employment of the long term unemployed, apprentices, graduates – though of course on small projects this is not economically viable. Other areas of social engagement include charitable involvement, community involvement, education support (projects, careers support), etc.
Not in all tenders – but in many it has created an increased emphasis on both Health & Safety, and Business Continuity – how contractors can minimise the risks to teams and projects from exposure to Covid (keeping people safe); and in the event of Covid exposure – how contractors can maintain the continuity of the projects so that delivery timelines are not substantially disrupted.
- Identify contract winners from contract award notices on e-Tenders – and approach them.
- Identify members of frameworks from contract award notices on e-Tenders – and approach.
- Just identify good businesses in your sector that you would like to work with – and approach.
What will make you attractive as a sub-contractor:
- A specialist capability,
- Your ability to deliver on time,
- Good project management and reporting, and
- Your ability to provide good quality tender content – that fits seamlessly into the lead contractor’s bid.
Yes, tender guidelines require contracting authorities and buyers to expressly invite and welcome bids from collaborative partners & consortia. The rules:
- Make it easy for two or more businesses to form a collaboration to meet the criteria for a bid – the partners become one ‘economic operator’ for the bid.
- Require buyers to treat a bid from a collaboration / consortium in the same (unbiased) way as a bid from a single business. This is in line with the procurement principle: equal treatment of tenderers.
Details of these tender guidelines – including provisions in relation to collaboration can be found here:
A good Request For Tender (RFT) will define how the partners can collectively meet the criteria for the bid. Generally, the partners to the collaboration can:
- Combine their experience to provide the minimum number of project examples – as they see fit.
- Combine their turnovers to meet the minimum threshold – in any way they see fit.
For some large contracts, buyers may set stipulations regarding how turnover and case study requirements should be met, but for the most part, there is great flexibility for consortium partners.
Frameworks are now accounting for the greater proportion of public procurement – this is called a ‘restricted’ procedure. Businesses qualify to get on the framework list at stage 1. Stage 2 drawdown competitions are then restricted to those framework members.
Open tenders (Open Procedure) are also commonly encountered by SMEs.
Other less common procedures involving negotiation, innovation partnership etc. can only be used in very select and approved circumstances and are not encountered so often by SMEs.
If you need more information on these procedures (or on any / all of the procedures, the Go-2-Tender Programme can help.
Yes – in fact you should ask clarification questions – to help you to decide
- Whether to respond at all – if the subject of the clarification is critical.
- How to respond more precisely and meaningfully to the buyers’ requirements – if you understand those requirements more clearly.
There will usually be a cut-off date for clarification questions – so do it early.
ESPD is the European Single Procurement Document – it is a self-declaration document confirming your financial standing, insurances, fit with the criteria, and confirming that you don’t fall foul of any disqualifying factors. It involves answering lots of questions as Yes / No – and a declaration signature.
SPD (Single Procurement Document) is the document now used in the UK – based on the same process of self-declaration.
Response documents are often based on a set format that may have the appearance of a ‘form’. It is important that bidders adhere to that response format - But is it also important that bidders do not allow the fact the response is based on a ‘form’ to drop the standard of response. Forms can prompt a ‘compliance’ mindset – answering the questions and filling in the form (in a slightly minimalist way).
Tendering is a final step in a sales process – we have to sell the fact that we are committed to winning the contract, capable of delivering the contract, creative in our approach to proposing solutions, etc.
So, ensure that you sell your business and your solution well – despite the format of the response.
Yes, presentation is important – to:
- Create a clear perception of quality and attention to detail, and
- To make the content accessible to the scoring panel (so that the panel does not have to work too hard to dig into poorly presented & poorly structured content to ‘find’ information relevant to the scoring criteria).
Yes – if you have a library of good content this gradually reduces the time needed to prepare new bid submissions. However do not get into a habit of relying on that library without change and development: you should always tailor your content to the specific requirements of each new tender, so refinement work will be required on case studies, team profiles, etc.
Perhaps; smaller businesses / sole traders don’t have a bid team, but even larger businesses have resource constraints (and sometimes too much ‘going on’). So, plan time well, pick your tenders selectively, bid less and win more, and use the support available to you through the Go-2-Tender Programme.
Yes. In these instances, the RFT is based on defining a problem that requires a solution, and bidders may develop and propose quite innovative (and sometimes quite different) solutions.
This can create greater challenges in relation to comparability and scoring. So, some engagement & negotiation may be required.
This information is not made available publicly. The panel can be made up of a mix of skills and experience; technical, subject-matter specialists, buyers, financial people, and perhaps senior management (with a broadly based range of skills and experience). SMEs bid content should try to ‘speak to’ all of these different perspectives.
Yes – absolutely.
The feedback should be comprehensive and should provide clear, specific and individual reasons that explain the score awarded for all criteria.
Not necessarily. There is no requirement for this. Contracting authorities or CoPE’s may agree to offer a meeting, subject to timing, and the approach you have taken to seeking the discussion. Focus on the future (and improvement) rather than picking over the award decision.
No, absolutely not. Buyers know that companies can’t and should not bid for everything. Bid less and win more.
Not really. The NI Protocol has allowed businesses all over the island of Ireland to continue to avail of public tendering opportunities throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. Cross-border tendering and contract delivery is entirely possible.
Not yet. The UK has adopted the same procurement rules and guidelines that operated within the EU. However, at end August 2021 discussions are under way that will result in some changes to UK procurement rules. Watch this space for updates in 2022.