Tenders Direct Blog

Comment from the experts at Tenders Direct.

Contracts Finder – Friend or foe?

Posted by Line Olsen on March 23, 2015

  • What is Contracts Finder?
  • Why do Contracting Authorities in England have to publish on Contracts Finder?
  • How do you publish to Contracts Finder?

Have you asked yourself any of these questions? This short blog will provide the answers.

About Contracts Finder:

Contracts Finder was first launched in 2011 by the Prime Minister as an online tool displaying the details of public contract opportunities and contracts above £10,000. The launch was a step by the government towards creating a more transparent system that removes obstacles and provides better access to contract opportunities for small businesses.

With the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 coming into force in the UK on the 26th of February, a BETA version of the new Contracts Finder was launched. It is intended that the new Contracts Finder along with the reforms recommended by the Lord Young’s report, introduced within part four of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 is the governments next step in providing smaller businesses (SME’s) and voluntary or charitable organisations (VCSEs) with easier access to public contract opportunities and improve transparency.

Why Contracting Authorities in England have to publish on Contracts Finder:

To make public contract opportunities more accessible to SME’s and VCSEs, part four of the 2015 Public Contracts Regulations introduces obligations for contracting authorities to publish both National Notices and OJEU notices to Contracts Finder. Where there has always been OJEU thresholds, the 2015 Public Contracts Regulations now provides clear national thresholds as well (Regulation 109), £10,000 for Central Government and £25,000 for sub-central governments and NHS Trusts.

Some of these obligations that will most affect contracting authorities include:

  • Procurement opportunities must be published on Contracts Finder (Regulation 106 and Regulation 110).
  • Contracting authorities must offer suppliers free and unrestricted direct access to any relevant contract documents via the internet (Regulation 53 and 110).

Issues:

There is no doubt that there are potential benefits. The more opportunities that make it out into the public domain, the greater the chances for all companies to participate in the competition. And if there is more competition then contracting authorities can achieve better value for money. The Scottish and Welsh national government portals Public Contracts Scotland and Sell2Wales both show success stories to back this up.

The Scottish and Welsh national government portals work as a one stop portal for public opportunities, allowing contracting authorities to provide electronic access to documents, electronic submission of responses and forwards the notices for publication in OJEU where required by the regulations. Contracts Finder does not currently offer all of these facilities.

As discussed above, not only is there an obligation to publish non-OJEU notices to Contracts Finder there is now an obligation to have all OJEU notices also advertised on Contracts Finder. However, Contracts Finder is not an official OJEU eSender and cannot forward notices for you. This means that, in addition to your usual means of publication, you now have to first publish your OJEU notices to TED and then publish the notice on Contracts Finder.

Except for uploading documents, Contracts Finder does not offer any additional tools for contracting authorities. Consequently this makes Contracts Finder an information sharing service only, and does not allow contracting authorities to communicate with suppliers through the site.

Further, a contracting authority is not able to provide suppliers with an overview of all their procurement opportunities on Contracts Finder. The only search filter to help a supplier find opportunities from a specific contracting authority is to select contract location.

So, is Contracts Finder a friend or a foe?

In my opinion Contracts Finder in its current state is more of a foe. At the moment it appears more of an administrative burden on contracting authorities who have to repeat their information.

There is no denying that the potential for Contracts Finder to be a good product for both contracting authorities and suppliers is great, but at the moment it just falls short. It does not offer enough functionality for a contracting authority to be a national portal on the same level as Public Contracts Scotland or Sell2Wales. One has to ask if the Government is doing enough to provide contracting authorities in England with the necessary support and tools to follow the regulations?

We would like to hear what you think. What are your experiences with Contracts Finder? Could the Government provide more support to contracting authorities?

Contracts Finder is currently just in a BETA version, and they are asking for feedback from their users. If you wish to provide feedback directly to Contracts Finder then there is a feedback link at the top of their search page found here.

How to make it easier to publish to Contracts Finder:

You can avoid the hassle of publishing the same information over and over again by using a third party interface that will make sure your information is forwarded on your behalf. That way you only need to enter the information once.

Millstream, the company who runs the successful national government portals Public Contracts Scotland and Sell2Wales, also provides a portal for contracting authorities in England where they offer the mytenders PRO service to their clients.

Millstream is an official eSender and will forward your notices to OJEU. Millstream is also an approved data feed provider to Contracts Finder and will forward the required information to Contracts Finder as soon as allowed according to the regulations.

You get a lot of other benefits from using the mytenders PRO service:

  • Support from a dedicated, knowledgeable staff through our UK help desk
  • Attach documents online and provide suppliers free and unrestricted direct access.
  • Receive responses online through a secure electronic postbox.
  • Provide clarifications using an online Question and Answer facility.
  • Conduct two-stage exercises, inviting selected suppliers to the second stage.
  • Send an invitation to quote for below threshold opportunities using a quick quote facility.

If you are a contracting authority and want to find out more about what mytenders PRO can do to make your life a little bit easier, give us a call on 0844 561 0670 or click here to find out more.

mytenders Tenders Direct

 

 

 

Posted in General Procurement, Procurement Law | Comments Off

Key points from the pre-election Budget March 2015

Posted by Alastair Caithness on March 18, 2015

The key points from today’s Budget

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, today delivered his final Budget statement ahead of the General Election in May.

George Osborne

The key announcements included:

  • The UK economy grew by 2.6% in 2014, with growth forecast at 2.5% for the year ahead. In addition, employment has reached record levels, trade deficit figures were described as “the best for 15 years” and living standards were reportedly higher than in May 2010, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). Inflation was projected to fall to 0.2% in 2015.
  • The deficit has been halved since 2010 as a share of national income, with borrowing set to fall to £90.2billion in 2014-15 and further to £75.3billion in 2015-16.
  • Plans to cut £13billion from government departments and £12billion from welfare spending.
  • The pension pot lifetime allowance will be reduced from £1.25million to £1million from next year. The law will be changed to allow pensioners to access their annuities, with the 55% tax charge abolished and tax applied at the marginal rate. An additional investment of £25million to support army veterans was also announced.
  • Beer duty will be cut by 1p, cider and whisky by 2p, and wine duty will be frozen. Tobacco duty remains unchanged.
  • A planned increase for petrol duty in September has been scrapped.
  • The personal tax-free allowance will rise to £10,900 in 2015-16 and again to £11,000 in 2016-17. The 40p tax threshold will also rise above inflation, from £42,385 to £43,300. Also on personal taxation, annual paper tax returns will be abolished and a review of inheritance tax avoidance through deeds of variation will take place.
  • A new personal savings allowance – with the first £1,000 interest becoming tax free – and the annual savings limit for ISAs increasing to £15,240.
  • New Help to Buy ISAs for first-time buyers which the government will top up by £50 for every £200 saved for a deposit
  • A tax on diverted profits, to tackle multinational profits being “artificially moved offshore”, will be launched next month. The annual bank levy rises to 0.21%.
  • The supplementary charge on North Sea oil producers will be cut from 30% to 20% and a new tax allowance will encourage investment.

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2015 Procurement Regulations – Changes to the ITT stage – What Suppliers Need to Know.

Posted by Gemma Waring on March 5, 2015

Following on from our recent blog regarding the changes to the PQQ stage in the new 2015 Procurement Regulations we are going to look at what has changed at the ITT stage and what suppliers need to be aware of when tendering to the public sector.

The most important changes to the ITT stage for suppliers are:

1) There is now greater clarity regarding the rules on social and environmental aspects being taken into account in tenders meaning that:

  • social aspects can now also be taken into account in certain circumstances (in addition to environmental aspects which have previously been allowed);
  • contracting authorities can require certification/labels or other equivalent evidence of social/environmental characteristics, further facilitating procurement of contracts with social/environmental objectives;
  • contracting authorities can refer to factors directly linked to the production process.

The caveat to this is that any factors taken into account must be reasonably achievable for all suppliers so as not to favour larger companies or specific methodologies. We would encourage suppliers to keep a check on your key buyers to see what policies they have in these areas and how they are likely to implement these new rules. For example do they have a big drive on apprenticeships or carbon emissions you could support them on? In general it would be a good idea to start gathering data, case studies and evidence of your company’s positive social and environmental impacts to use in your responses going forward as the level of detail asked for in these questions is only going to increase.

2) Full life-cycle costing can be taken into account when awarding contracts; this could encourage more sustainable and/or better value procurement which will hopefully save money for tax payers in the long term.

This is a welcome step as it will prompt buyers to look at long term quality rather than short term cost savings but how it will be measured and implemented it still not clear. It is heavily linked to social, environmental and sustainability initiatives and again suppliers need to have a good grasp of what this means for their company and how they can evidence it.  

3) Legal clarity has been given to explain that contracting authorities can take into account the relevant skills and experience of individual staff members at the award stage where relevant (e.g. for consultants, architects, etc).

This will have implications for your bidding strategy as you need to effectively plan your resources and name names in your bid documents. You can’t bid for three contracts all starting at the same time and promise them all the A –Team anymore! Again, it is unclear how this will be practically implemented and enforced- if for example you win a number of contracts could you then have them removed if you don’t have the exact staff member you named in your bid or will an equally qualified and experienced staff member be allowed to replace them?

The changes to the ITT stage do appear to be more far reaching than the changes to the PQQ stage but the concern for many suppliers will be the lack of clarity on how these changes will be implemented in practice and also the fact that they are open to interpretation by each contracting authority. The danger being that companies who bid for work across a number of authorities will end up having to respond to questions that all interpret key issues such as life-cycle costing and social value differently and will end up having to meet a variety of standards and expectations from their current business model. A situation which will no doubt be costly and time consuming.

As with all aspects of the legislation, more guidance will be given by the Crown Commercial Service in the coming months but it will be very interesting to see how these far reaching issues will be practically harnessed so they can be applied meaningfully to the tendering process. The main challenge for the contracting authorities will be implementing these changes without them becoming a burden to suppliers especially SMEs who have limited resources and for whom the new regulations were supposed to benefit.

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2015 Procurement Regulations – Changes to the PQQ Stage – What Suppliers need to know.

Posted by Gemma Waring on March 2, 2015

As part of our series of blogs on the 2015 Procurement Regulations, we are going to look at the main changes to the two common stages in procurement – the PQQ stage in this blog and in a couple of days we will look at the ITT stage. It is important to know what changes you can expect and how you need to prepare for them if you are a supplier to the public sector.

The most important changes to the PQQ stage in the new regulations are:   

A turnover cap has been introduced to facilitate SME participation. Contracting authorities will not be able to set company turnover requirements at more than two times the contract value, except where there is a specific justification. This will be of benefit to a lot of suppliers but given the point made in our previous blog about contracting authorities not being mandated to break contracts down into lots this means you must have a turn over circa £223K (unless the contract is being broken down into lots) which will still inhibit a lot of smaller or newly established companies from competing.  In any case, from today make sure all contracts you are applying for follow this rule to open up as many doors as possible. If the turn over requirement is more than two times the contract value then ask why – there may be justification but it might just be an error that the procurement team can rectify, giving you the opportunity to compete for the business.

A much simpler process of assessing supplier credentials will be rolled out, involving greater use of supplier self-declarations, and where only the winning bidder should have to submit various certificates and documents to prove their status. It is thought that the UK will implement the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) in most circumstances – see Regulation 59 for more details. The ESPD covers most of the ‘standard’ PQQ questions (Company Info, Accounts, Technical Ability etc.) and it is intended that suppliers will be able to re-use the same form where possible to further cut the administrative burden of bidding. The final copy is not available yet but we will bring it to our blog subscribers as soon as it is.

New mandatory exclusions include any offences classified under the terrorism and serious crimes acts and poor performance under previous contracts is explicitly permitted as grounds for discretionary exclusion. Time limits for the exclusion of suppliers should be set at not more than three years for discretionary exclusions and five years for mandatory exclusions. Suppliers who have been excluded from public procurement for bad practice can have the exclusion ended if they effectively “self clean” but this is down to the individual contracting authority to decide and for you to prove you have made amends for previous mistakes.

So while there have not initially been a great deal of changes to the PQQ stage, the introduction of the ESPD could arguably be one of the biggest changes to be seen in in public sector procurement. Working with suppliers through our training courses and consultancy services we constantly hear that companies are frustrated filling out tender documents that all ask for the same information but in a slightly different way requiring a full rewrite of stock answers and information.

Could the 2015 Public Contracts Regulations be the remedy to these frustrations? With the introduction of 100% electronic procurement by 2018 and the ESPD could we potentially be heading towards a future where applying for a PQQ would be a matter of a couple of clicks rather than a couple of days worth of work?

Lets hope so as this will free up suppliers to concentrate on producing high quality and well though out solutions for the ITT stage which will be a welcome benefit to contracting authorities and tax payers alike. We will bring you further details of this as they become available.

NOTE: This blog is designed to look at the most impactful changes and is not a comprehensive review of the new regulations in full, it is important to note that these may not apply to contracting authorities in Scotland.

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Contracts Finder

Posted by Tim Williams on February 27, 2015

The new UK Public Contracts Regulations came into force yesterday, 26th February 2015. As we’ve commented in other posts on this blog the regulations impose some new statutory obligations on public sector bodies which are designed to increase the number of small and medium sized companies bidding for and winning public contracts.

The two most major changes that are having an immediate impact on public bodies are:

  1. All contracts with a value estimated to be greater than £25,000 (£10,000 for central government) have to be advertised on the Crown Commercial Service website Contracts Finder. This requirement doesn’t just apply to contracts between £25,000 and the European threshold of £172, 514 (£111,676 for central government), it also applies to notices published in the Official Journal (OJEU), so procurement officers will have to enter the information on one system for the OJEU and then on another system for Contracts Finder. To add to the confusion you are not allowed to publish an OJEU notice on Contracts Finder until it has been published in the Official Journal.
  2. The second change is an obligation to make all of the procurement documents available online at the same time as the contract notice is published. The term ‘procurement documents’ is defined quite widely and is intended to include the full tender specification and all the supporting documents, not just a pre-qualification questionnaire, so that any interested supplier can understand the full requirements before deciding to proceed.

myTenders Pro, which is managed by Millstream who also run Tenders Direct, takes the pain out of these two new obligations.

  • Using mytenders Pro to compile and publish contract notices means they can automatically be submitted them to both Contracts Finder and the Official Journal without the information having to be typed in twice and all of an organisations contract notices can be managed and controlled in one easy to use and low cost service (Regulations 106 & 110).
  • Public bodies can also provide unrestricted and full direct access free of charge to the procurement documents from the date of the publication by making them available to download from myTenders (Regulation 53).
  • Suppliers can submit their completed bids in a secure online postbox which allows procurement officers to reduce the minimum timescales of OJEU procurement but also to prepare for the statutory requirement to conduct fully electronic eprocurement (Regulation 22, not mandatory until October 2018).

We first developed the myTenders procurement portal in 2002 and it now powers Public Contracts Scotland, and Sell2Wales as well as introducing electronic tendering in Ireland and Norway with the eTenders and Doffin websites. The system is in regular use by 11,000 procurement officers and more than 140,000 suppliers, so it has been very thoroughly field tested. We take the hassle out of publishing over 10,000 OJEU notices every year for our public sector customers and a further 25,000 notices for contracts under the OJEU threshold, mini-competitions, etc.

Our dedicated UK help desk provides unlimited support by phone or email to both public sector procurement staff and also their prospective suppliers. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff have years of experience and many are qualified to postgraduate level in the policy and law of public procurement.

Our Information Security system is accredited to ISO 27001 and we are a supplier on the Government’s G-Cloud 6 digital marketplace.

If you are a public sector purchasing officer and are interested in finding out how myTenders Pro can take some of the pain out of these new obligations give us a call on 0844 561 0670 or click here to find out more.

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Getting Paid On Time

Posted by Tim Williams on February 20, 2015

Although the public sector are generally quite good at paying on time a new requirement in the Public Contracts Regulations is that every public contract must stipulate that payment is made within 30 days£20 notes from the receipt of a valid invoice (Regulation 113).

Perhaps even more importantly any subcontract awarded by the successful contractor must contain the same 30 day payment terms from the contractor to the subcontractor.

This requirement applies to every contract in the supply chain no matter how far removed from the contracting authority.

There are certainly many cases in the past where a contractor at the top of the supply chain has been paid on time, but delays payment to its suppliers which has an adverse ripple effect as the delay increases further down the chain. This new provision should hopefully ensure that such behaviour is a thing of the past.

Public bodies will be required to publish annual statistics setting out the proportion of invoices paid on time, the liability to pay interest and the actual amount of interest paid.

 

Click here to find new business opportunities on Tenders Direct

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New 2015 Procurement Regulations – Will SMEs benefit from the changes?

Posted by Gemma Waring on February 13, 2015

The official public contracts regulations which govern UK public sector procurement have been published and are coming in to force on the 26th February 2015.

One of the main aims of the regulations and their precursor strategies ( such as Europe 2020 and the Lord Young report) was to encourage more participation from SME companies in tendering exercises and ultimately to get more SMEs supplying to the public sector.

The current government set the lofty target of 25% of government spend going to SMEs by 2015, a target which is a long way from being met so the key questions for organisations looking to supply into the public sector in light of the new regulations are 1) What has changed? and, more importantly, 2) What does this actually mean for me?

What has changed?

Some of the more significant changes in the new regulations are:

 

  • Tendering documents have to be available from the date of OJEU advertisement – no more registering interest and chasing for updates from the contracting authority.

 

  • Reduced timescales for procurement – on average they have reduced timeframes by a third and have introduced the new Accelerated Open procedure for OJEU tenders and have prohibited the use of a PQQ stage for low value contracts.

 

  • Contracting Authorities are now only allowed to ask for suppliers to have a turn over that is twice the value of the contract they are applying for.

 

  • New mandatory exclusions mean companies with individuals who have been found guilty of Terrorism or Serious Crime offences must be excluded from the competition – unlikely to affect the majority of companies.

 

  • New discretionary exclusions means that poor performance on a previous contract (including any damages paid not just cancellation of contracts) can be grounds for exclusion for up to 5 years.

 

  • Buyers are now being ‘encouraged’ to break contracts down into smaller lots – not as strong a measure as most hoped for as it could have been mandated for all contracting authorities.

 

What does this mean for you?

The over all impression SME suppliers might take from the new regulations is that there are a number of conflicting changes that means they are being impeded rather than encouraged to participate.

For example, the limitation on the company turn over to contract value ratio would largely be seen as a positive step for SMEs but without mandating buyers to break contracts down in to lots, many SMEs might still find that contracts remain out of reach due to their size.

There are also the conflicting ideals between reducing red tape and the removal of PQQ stages for low value contracts. Given the issue stated above about larger contracts and restrictive turn over requirements,  SMEs are often encouraged to tender for smaller contracts to break in to the public sector but now these will effectively be run as an open procedure, it will mean more work for SMEs and more form filling – draining resources with no guaranteed return on investment.

Although the introduction of E-Certis or a European Single Procurement Document will alleviate the burden somewhat, these will not become mandatory in the UK until October 2018, leaving  a period of more than 2½ years  in which  suppliers have lengthy documents to fill in rather than the less burdensome PQQs documents – only putting in additional resources if successful at this stage.

 

Only time will tell what impact the changes will make and the Crown Commercial Service has advised ‘more guidance’ will be forthcoming on implementing the Lord Young Report but for now its hard to see how SMEs will benefit, certainly in the short term, from the changes in the new regulations.

Perhaps a lack of input from the business sector in the consultation phase can be attributed to this or a lack of practical awareness from the public sector of the rigors of tendering for SME companies and the strain it places on resources.

 

Either way it seems there is a way to go before SMEs can access the market as simply or effectively as they would hope to.

 

These changes are only a selection of issues SMEs need to consider as part of the new regulations – we will be posting separate blogs in the coming weeks on ‘How suppliers can prepare for Life Cycle Costing Questions’ and ‘Changes to Procurement Procedures’.

Our Successful Tendering courses are all being updated to incorporate the changes to the legislation and what it means to you – our course programme can be found on our website.

Posted in General Procurement, Politics of Procurement, Procurement Law | Tagged: , , , , | 15 Comments »

Small firms given fighting chance to win Government contracts

Posted by Tim Williams on February 10, 2015

Today’s Telegraph includes an article about the new Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which will come into effect at the end of this month. As well as implementing the European public contracts directive (Directive 2014/24/EU), these new Regulations introduce a number of measures, collectively known as the Lord Young Reforms, that aim to help small firms win more government contracts.

One of these reforms, the removal of the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) process, while undoubtedly well intentioned will instead significantly and adversely affect the ability of small firms to win public sector contracts.

All firms being considered for a government contract will still require to be qualified, e.g. to have adequate financial strength, appropriate levels of insurance, quality management processes and a track record of having successfully completed similar contracts. The ban on PQQ’s, simply moves the qualification process from a separate preliminary stage and instead embeds it in the first stage of the full tender evaluation.

This means that instead of completing a relatively short questionnaire to demonstrate their qualifications, a candidate for a public contract will have to provide exactly the same information as part of their tender, but will also have to complete a full tender proposal. A full tender proposal will often consume a very significant amount of time and resources.

If a company would have failed the qualification exercise under the PQQ system they will still fail, but the process will have cost them much, much more. In my view it is inevitable that over time this will lead to far fewer small companies submitting tenders for public contracts.

There will also be a much greater cost imposed on the public bodies who are evaluating the tenders submitted. Instead of evaluating perhaps 5 or 10 tenders from qualified candidates, they will have to carefully evaluate all of the tenders that are submitted to them.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

5 Top Tips for Writing PQQ Responses

Posted by Kirsten Jones on February 5, 2015

Tackling a pre-qualification questionnaire for the first time can be a daunting task, which is why we have asked our top consultants for their top do’s and don’ts for answering PQQs.

Industry Insights

Tip 1 – read, think, read, write

Read the question carefully and answer as clearly as you can. Think about your answer before you start writing and re-read the question when you are working on it to make sure what you have written fits in. Within reason give the required answer and clarify, rather than the “wrong” answer and clarify, just in case the initial sift is done by a computer, and remember to always give a full and honest clarification.

 

Tip 2 – mirror, mirror

Pick out key words in the tender documents (instructions, evaluation criteria etc.). What are they really looking for? Connect your company’s abilities to the requirement and mirror the language to make it easy for the evaluator to connect the dots.

 

Tip 3 – know the right flow

Don’t try and get around word limits or sizes – do what is being asked of you and do not include attachments that have not been requested as they will not be evaluated. Ease of reading, substance and content are of higher value than cosmetic/creative presentation, so make sure the words flow well together and check frequently for spelling and grammatical errors.

 

Tip 4 – get the right fit

Don’t cut and paste from previous scored answers, they may have scored highly on your last PQQ but it doesn’t guarantee a high score this time. Tailor your response to meet the exact question requirements and the buyer’s strategic aims where possible.

 

Tip 5 – save the selling for the bid

Remember the PQQ is about capacity, experience and ability – it is not about the solution at this stage so don’t try and put “sales talk” into your responses. Relax, be yourself and answer the question being asked. Do not be afraid to highlight your firms strengths, especially where they connect with the requirement, just make sure not to over-do it. A good method is to include a solid testimonial quote from a happy client that is short but adds strength to your response.

 

Do you have any tips that didn’t make our list? Share them with us in the comments below.

To learn more about how our training courses can equip you with the knowledge to create a striking PQQ – Click Here.

Posted in Tender Tips | 2 Comments »

Jargon Bust – Variant Bids

Posted by Alastair Caithness on January 21, 2015

Variant bids are different from other bidding styles because they are a little more flexible than regular bids.

Typically a bid will not be accepted if it does not meet the criteria, however with variant bids organisations can submit two proposals: one that matches the outlined criteria and one “variation” to increase their chances of winning the business. Variant bids come in many shapes and sizes and can be as simple as a different pricing structure or as in-depth as a proposal detailing a new, innovative way to deliver a service.

Jargon Bust

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