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John Cutt

Update: Revised Public Sector Contract

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The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has announced a new version of the public sector contract with revised terms and conditions designed to make public work more accessible to smaller companies. Crown Representative for Small Business Emma Jones was quoted as saying:

The new CCS contract is shorter and easier to understand and takes a more standardised approach. This should save SMEs time and money when deciding to bid for CCS deals and I welcome the approach.”

Likewise, the view from Tenders Direct is that this – along with any other initiative to minimise the complexity of public contracting – is a step in the right direction. One of the more common pieces of feedback we receive from SMEs is that they find the administrative burden involved in bidding for public contracts challenging and often feel dissuaded from tendering at all.

Our Head of Training and Consultancy Gemma Waring elaborates on why this is a positive development for smaller suppliers:

“Many SMEs simply don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to fully digest and understand complex terms and conditions, which puts them in danger of signing up to liabilities, penalties, and requirements they cannot meet in practice. The new T&Cs will allow suppliers to develop a fuller and lasting understanding of their obligations without having to review and challenge different sets in each tendering exercise. All the time and effort saved can be more usefully applied to formulating successful bids.”

 

If you have any questions about this or any other aspect of public sector tendering let us know in the comments below!

Case Study: Bridgeway Consulting Ltd

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Bridgeway receives The Queen‘s Award for Enterprise: Sustainable Development – 2017

In this case study we speak to Business Development Specialist Tom Foster to find out more about Bridgeway Consulting Ltd and their experience of using Tenders Direct.

Background

Formed in 1995, Bridgeway Consulting Ltd provide a multi-disciplinary portfolio of engineering services with extensive experience working on small, medium and large projects across the UK and internationally. Priding themselves on an exemplary safety record and acknowledging that safety, productivity and business performance go hand in hand, their company ethos is “the 3(E)S”: Exceeding, Expectations, Everywhere, Safely.

Services

  • Structural Examinations (including confined spaces, rope access and diving)
  • Infrastructure Services (including Signalling, Design and PWay)
  • Geomatics (including BIM, Monitoring, Topographical Surveys, Aerial Surveys, Utility Detection and CCTV Surveys)
  • Site and Ground Investigation (including Slope Drilling and Ecology)
  • Railway Track Access (Possessions, AC/DC Isolations)
  • Railway Training and Assessment, HSQE & Assurance Services.

Recent awards

  • The Queen’s Award for Enterprise Sustainable Development – 2017
  • London Stock Exchange Top 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain – 2016 & 2017
  • Nottinghamshire’s Top 200 Companies – 2016 & 2017

Q&A

Bridgeway has become a leading contractor since it was founded in 1995. In terms of your business strategy, what has contributed to this growth?

Offering high quality services and ensuring that we have a diverse client base has been key. We are principle contractors for Network Rail so much of our work comes via their supply chain, but we also work with a wide variety of other clients including local authorities such as councils in Durham, Bradford, Rotherham, Lancashire, and Nottingham to name a few.

As a company we put a premium on safety, quality, community, and sustainability. This approach has put us in a strong position when bidding for new work and helped us develop long lasting relationships with clients. With changes in our industry over the years, we’ve also learned to be ready to re-invent ourselves and adjust our focus if need be.

How did you find relevant public contracts before you subscribed to Tenders Direct?

We were registered with various free websites like Sell2Wales and Public Contracts Scotland. We’d regularly monitor around five or six main websites, but we found that we’d often be duplicating the information. With so many different sources, we were also concerned that we may have been missing out on opportunities.

Tender notices that we picked up from these sources were often displayed in different formats which made things that bit more difficult. A great deal of effort had to go into giving ourselves full coverage, so we’ve cut out a lot of admin and saved a great deal of time since we subscribed.

Is business development more straightforward since you subscribed?

It’s more streamlined now that all our public sector leads are pulled into one place and displayed in the same format. We provide 20 different services so making sure we have full visibility of relevant opportunities in any given region is very important.

The way our alert profile works is an advantage, with separate keyword categories relating to each of our services and the ability to filter the notices by service and region. Numerous team members have access to the platform, so having a dedicated account manager responsible for updating our settings prevents changes being made to our coverage without being authorised by the named administrator.

What advice would you give to companies trying to win their first public contract?

Try to establish where you sit in the market and take the time to understand the structure and processes involved. Don’t take a scattershot approach to which contracts you bid for. There’s no point investing large amounts of time and resources in a bid when the odds are stacked against you, so don’t just dive in. Select your targets carefully and make sure you’re offering a high quality service, not just a cheap one.

Upcoming Free Webinars

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Looking to learn but too pushed for time? With our free webinars you can join us on your lunch break or watch previous recordings at your leisure. Lasting no longer than an hour, we cover a variety of topics relevant to suppliers. Our next live sessions explore different types of tenders, why they are important, and how to find and win them.

 

Finding and Winning Low Value Tenders – Tuesday 17th July 1.00pm – 1.45pm

Low value tenders can be of huge value to suppliers of any size, but are not subject to the full raft of regulatory requirements and can be difficult to find. This webinar provides:

  • An explanation of what low value tenders are
  • Advice on why they are useful for suppliers
  • An explanation of how to access them
  • An outline of what rules and regulations govern low value tenders

Book your place!

 

Frameworks and DPS – Wednesday 18th July 1.00pm – 2pm

The use of Frameworks and Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS) is on the rise, but many suppliers are unsure of exactly what they are and how they work. This webinar provides:

  • A description of what a framework is and how it operates
  • A description of a DPS and how it differs from a framework
  • An explanation of how to find these opportunities
  • Examples of ‘call-off’ mini competitions from frameworks and DPS

Book your place!

 

View details of our full day training courses

Simple Strategies for Success: Take the Initiative

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In his poem Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day, Delmore Schwartz observed that “Time is the fire in which we burn”. Anyone familiar with tender submissions will probably have sympathy with this sentiment. After finding a promising contract, it can be quite a struggle to prepare a bid within a limited time-frame while staying on top of existing commitments.

Many suppliers tell us that racing to meet tight deadlines while wading through piles of bid documents only to be rebuffed after all their efforts makes them less inclined to bother bidding at all. This kind of “reactive tendering” can be both exhausting and futile, so what can you do differently?

Try giving yourself a head start by scoping out your targets in advance. Is there a particular buyer you’d like to contract for? If you can build even the most modest relationship with them you can gain useful intelligence about their specific needs and procurement strategy. When they go out to tender, this can help you make your bid as bespoke as possible.

Is there an existing contract that you missed out on or are now in a position to go for? If you establish when it is due for renewal and start your preparations months ahead, you’ll have much more time to perfect your pitch without feeling pressurised. This will leave competitors who only became aware of it when the tender notice was published rushing around while you calmly put the finishing touches on your submission.

Explore our free resources for suppliers

Learn how Advance Tender Alerts can give you a head start

Simple Strategies for Success: Knowledge is Power

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Most of us are familiar with this quote widely attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It transpires that there is no record of Mr Einstein saying this, but there is truth to it regardless.

Suppliers struggling to win public contracts should keep this maxim in mind when considering their next move. If your bid has been knocked back, it is crucial that you find out why and take corrective action. Where did you fall down? What were you unaware of? How can you improve?

We find that one of the more common missteps made by aspiring contractors after unsuccessful bids is failing to seek as much feedback as possible from buyers and not conducting a detailed assessment of what they could have done better. Instead of allowing your efforts to be wasted, why not use them to your advantage?

Once a contract is awarded, suppliers are entitled to feedback from buyers including a breakdown of their scores and the characteristics and advantages of the winning bid. Conducting a thorough review of your submission with the information available can provide a wealth of applicable knowledge about your strengths and weaknesses.

Persisting with the same stale strategy may not be insanity, but it is certainly not sensible. If you learn lessons, hone your skills, and adjust your approach, you’ll be a much more powerful presence in the next competition.

Click here to explore our free resources for suppliers

Click here to learn about our bid review service

Simple Strategies for Success: Be Pragmatic

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One of the most common pieces of feedback we receive from subscribers trying to win their first public contract is that they are tired of being knocked back from promising opportunities, with many minded to give up entirely and focus their efforts exclusively on the private sector.

This is entirely understandable when time and resources are minimal and the workload involved in bidding so substantial, but companies in any industry need diverse revenue streams in order to prosper and grow. Winning your first tender is not so much about the here and now, but about the future: once you have your foot in the door, many more opportunities will open up to you.

In our experience, it pays to be pragmatic when selecting your target. Larger contracts are unlikely to be awarded to a supplier with no previous public sector experience, so below-threshold procurements should be your focus; they may not be worth millions, but winning just one can prove to be a vital stepping stone for any company aspiring to win large government contracts.

In other words, don’t try to run before you can walk. Be selective about your bids and focus on winning one of the more modest contracts in order to give yourself the best chance of success. Your first win allows you to demonstrate your capabilities and gain vital references, which will be invaluable when making your pitch for a larger and more lucrative contract.

Click here to explore our free resources for suppliers

Making your own luck

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We’re all familiar with the various thematic clichés associated with St Patrick’s Day celebrations: leprechauns, pots of gold, four-leafed clovers and good luck. But did you know that the phrase “luck of the Irish” does not necessarily refer to the good variety?

Continue reading “Making your own luck”

Shedding Light on the Shadows

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For those of us who enjoy scaring ourselves stiff with fictional nightmares, the run up to Halloween always sees a welcome upsurge of horror films on the television schedules. In the archetypal “haunted house” story, an inexplicable and increasingly threatening paranormal force torments the unfortunate victims. As with all good storytelling, our empathy for the characters derives from our own hopes and fears: we can be suspicious or even fearful of things we don’t understand, and this fear of the unknown leaves the fictional characters – and the viewers – feeling insecure and powerless.

Sometimes, though, the victims turn the tables on their tormentors by learning to fight back. With the right resources and assistance – silver bullets, holy water, mediums or exorcists – even the most terrifying ghoul can be cast out.

Just like a haunted house, the real world can sometimes be unnerving and disconcerting. Brexit – whether it fills you with hope or dread – has swept away old certainties and created a future filled with potential pitfalls and possibilities. For now, the level of access UK suppliers will have to the EU market – and almost everything else about the final deal and it’s consequences – remain frighteningly unclear.

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Like a terrified victim in a horror film, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of uncertainty. As the old gives way to the new, do you cower under the covers and hope for the best or pluck up the courage to face down your demons? Like a vampire hunter arming themselves with silver bullets and wooden stakes, we should seek out the knowledge and expertise needed to defeat the mysterious forces undermining our confidence.

Millstream can’t protect you from things that go bump in the night, but we can certainly shed light on the shadows of public procurement and clear the cobwebs away. Do you find bid writing frightening? Does the ESPD give you the heebie jeebies? Our team of experts includes procurement professionals and experienced bid writers who know how to take the fear factor out of public sector tendering.

If your first or fiftieth bid fills you with foreboding, our newly updated training courses can help you to cast out the evil spirits holding you back. Our consultancy services have a success rate of over 80%, and 98% of delegates who attend our training courses would recommend them to others. So, if your company is haunted by a lack of experience or success in bidding for public contracts, Millstream could be the silver bullet you need.

Happy Halloween!

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Confronting collusion in public procurement

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Back in June, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) published an open letter to procurement professionals announcing new guidance and learning resources designed to help combat collusion between suppliers bidding for public contracts. Along with a text summary, the new resources include an e-learning module and some admirably accessible and informative animated videos. Unsurprisingly, this development in the battle against illegal anti-competitive practices received a warm reception in procurement circles, with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply and the Local Government Association making the resources available to their members. This move can be seen as a small but positive step forward in efforts to protect the public sector’s reputation as a fair and transparent place to do business and should be applauded.

 

We last touched on this subject in 2009 following a round of fines imposed by the Office of Fair Trading (superseded in 2014 by the CMA) on over one hundred construction firms found to be guilty of bid rigging. The size and stature of many of the companies involved was surprising: not so much dodgy purveyors of rickety garage conversions, more a who’s who of premier league construction companies. Some in the industry expressed concern over potential job losses resulting from the fines, but we felt that these sanctions were not overly punitive when framed as a percentage of turnover. Indeed, some of the firms had their fines reduced substantially under the CMA’s leniency policy in return for confessing when first confronted.  Continue reading “Confronting collusion in public procurement”

Wales: a clarification

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After drawing Wales in the Euro 2016 office sweepstake a few weeks ago, I may have inadvertently given the impression to my colleagues that I was in some way not utterly ecstatic at the outcome. I now accept that my use of various profanities and the term “unmitigated disaster” may have misconstrued my true feelings on the subject. I am happy to clarify that I have always had the utmost confidence in the Welsh national team, fully expected them to make it to the semi-finals as a minimum and consider it a privilege to have invested £2.00 in their endeavour to stay in Europe (albeit for football and binge drinking only).

Although Millstream specialises in public procurement rather than football punditry, we have been impressed by the interest shown by some attendees of the tournament in our area of expertise: it was particularly gratifying to see a fringe element of Remain supporting England fans attempting to stimulate French public sector expenditure by facilitating massive overtime payments to the Gendarmes and street sweepers of Marseilles and Lille. Faced with a wave of criticism after the abject humiliation of his team of spoilt divas being defeated by plucky Icelandic amateurs, England manager Roy Hodgson reluctantly agreed to face the media despite being privately encouraged by Boris Johnson to follow his lead by abdicating all responsibility for the outcome.

Continue reading “Wales: a clarification”

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