The public sector is bound by law to pay on-time, comply with the Social Value Act, uphold contractual standards, and ensure transparency in all of its processes.

“This all makes it a very safe place for people to work,” says Keith Heard, Commercial Manager – Category Development, Property Services at Hampshire County Council.

While a public sector body can be a quality client, winning work is not without its challenges. For a start,  local governments – county, borough or unitary councils – all have their own processes, as well as separate portals and platforms where they publish tenders.

“The biggest barrier is knowing how to access the work and understanding the structure of a particular county, district or borough council. Having knowledge of the governmental structure is key,” says Alex Neall, Senior Project Manager at Hampshire County Council.

Larger contractors can find tenders on Central Government portals such as ContractsFinder or Find a Tender. Smaller contractors have to be more resourceful. “Say you’re into sports pavilions,” Heard says, “you have to know what type of local authority builds sports pavilions, then you have to search their website and portals to find where they advertise opportunities.”

After the tender is found, you will need to complete a qualification questionnaire, providing information on your business, health and safety records, and finances. Heard’s advice: ensure more than one person is involved in gathering the relevant documentation for the submission. You cannot add a key document after you have submitted the questionnaire.

Tips for a well-crafted bid

Along with the qualification questionnaire, you must submit a written tender response or bid for  work. Take note of the following:

  1. Read the question carefully: Each question needs to be looked at on its own merits and requires a highly specific answer. “Something you did three or four projects ago might not be the best fit,” Neall says.
  2. Answer every question: Each question requires an answer in the relevant box on the form. Read the question with the scoring criteria alongside it so you know what to focus on and how to answer it accurately.
  3. Pay attention to the evaluation criteria: Look out for similar language used in questions as this will help you focus your answers. Use these key words and phrases in your responses.
  4. Support with specific examples: Ensure your examples are relevant. If you’re bidding for a project under £1 million, for instance, showcase examples of your work within that budget.
  5. Count your words: Use all of the word count available but don’t devote too many words to the first answer or bullet point. Save some space for the rest of your answers.
  6. Seek clarification: During the tender process, contractors can ask for clarifications on the tender document before they submit their bid. However, check first if your queries have been raised by other bidders. Consult the clarification table daily for updates.
  7. Don’t rely on spell check: Ask someone you trust to check your bid document and don’t rely on spell check. Heard gives the example of how spell check could convert ‘cranage’ to ‘carnage’ – and change much of your bid’s meaning.

Finally, learn from an unsuccessful bid. A public sector body is required due to rules of transparency to provide feedback to every unsuccessful contractor, contrasting their bid in detail with the winning bid. Don’t consider it an “assault on your integrity and intelligence”, rather, Heard says, “take it on the chin, accept it and learn from it”.

This article was originally published in the August / September 2021 edition of the Master Builder magazine. Members can login to view a copy, non-members can request the latest copy via email.

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