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Simple Strategies for Success: Take the Initiative


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.

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Learn how Advance Tender Alerts can give you a head start

Simple Strategies for Success: Knowledge is Power


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.

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Simple Strategies for Success: Be Pragmatic


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

Take control of your tendering activities – create a strategy that works for you

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The majority of companies we work with are stuck in the trap of reactive tendering. By reactive tendering I mean that you simply wait to see what contract notices come out day to day and then tender for the ones you want to win.

What’s the problem with that? The problem is that your competitors may well have been engaging with the buyer for months beforehand, showcasing their product or service, influencing the specification and moving themselves into a favourable position to win the bid. Continue reading “Take control of your tendering activities – create a strategy that works for you”

Free Webinar: ESPD for Buyers

ESPD Buyer Webinar

Are you ready for ESPD?

Join us at 1.00pm on Thursday 19 April for a free webinar to find out more about how to create an ESPD request. We’ll also explain more about the different versions of ESPD as well as what impact Brexit will have on the document.

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SMEs to miss out on £33.5bn worth of government contracts by 2020


Small businesses could miss out on over £33 billion worth of UK Government contracts in the ten years to 2022, according to procurement specialists Millstream.

The Government has set itself a target of spending £1 in every £3 ‎on SMEs by 2022 through both direct and indirect spending as part of a drive to re-balance the economy. It procures around £50 billion worth of products and services a year.

However, according to Millstream analysis*, in the last five years direct government spending on SMEs has only grown by one percentage point from 10% to 11%.

The firm estimates that, if spending on SMEs increases at its current rate, the SME community is likely to have missed out on £33.5 billion worth of government contracts in the ten years to 2022 – at precisely the time that the government is hoping to attract more tenders from them.

‎Penny Godfrey, General Manager of Millstream, said: “This could be a real missed opportunity for the SME community. Despite a major push to redistribute spending amongst a larger number of smaller firms, current trends suggest that not enough SMEs are tendering for and winning government business.

“This is not itself a criticism of government: the target is there to encourage smaller businesses to apply for contracts. Doing so would spread risk for the government and improve its access to specialist businesses. Of course, it should also redistribute investment around the UK.”

According to Millstream, it’s not all doom and gloom, the UK government is on track to double the proportion of funds it spends directly on SMEs by 2022. In 2009, just 6.5 per cent of total government expenditure went to SMEs, but Millstream predicts it will hit 13% by 2022.

However, the government’s target is not exclusively based on the direct contracts it offers to SMEs, but on the total overall benefit to SMEs, which includes indirect contributions to the SME supply chain. By this definition, government spending on SMEs is actually decelerating.

Penny Godfrey added: “More must be done to encourage tender submissions from SMEs. Businesses must appreciate that the process needn’t be arduous. Buyers really want to see more small businesses getting involved. It is vital that we stimulate tendering for government work – SMEs must understand that the opportunities outweigh the risks.”


* UK government official data on SME spending available here (2009-14) and here (2014-16). 2016/17 data not yet available.

Millstream made the following presumptions in its calculations:

  • YoY increase of 3% on total procurement spending by the UK government 2016-2022
  • Improvement in the % of total (direct & indirect) SME spending follows the direct spending trend of the UK government from 2011-2015 onwards (=growth of 1% every four years)
  • To make the most conservative estimate possible, we used the highest % spent on SMEs available as starting point for projected spend from 2016 to 2022

Free Webinar: ESPD for Suppliers

ESPD for Suppliers

There has been a lot of talk about the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) but what is it, what do you need to know about it and why are there so many versions of a ‘single’ document?

Join our webinar on Wednesday 18 April from 1.00pm to 1.45pm where you’ll find out:

• What the ESPD is and why is has been created
• How it is implemented across the UK
• How to create an ESPD
• What impact Brexit will have on the ESPD

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Free Webinar: Social Value in Tenders

Millstream Social Value Webinar

Social Value has been part of procurement legislation since 2013 yet it is just starting to filter down into tender documents on a regular basis – sometimes accounting for up to 20% of the total evaluation.

But what is it? And, more importantly, how can you prepare for it?

If you would like a firmer understanding of the topic then join our Head of Training and Consultancy, Gemma Waring BA (Hons), for this FREE webinar.

Tuesday 27 February, 1.00pm til 1.45pm

The webinar will cover:

• A high level overview of the Social Value Act 2012
• An explanation of how it is being implemented in the public sector
• Examples of Social Value questions that have been seen in recent tenders
• Advice on how to prepare for answering social value questions in tenders

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Guest Legal Blog: Are regulations making procurement easier for SME’s?

Suzanne Hardie_Morton Fraser

Suzanne Hardie is a partner at independent law firm, Morton Fraser and advises on procurement matters. Here she looks at how procurement regulations are seeking to make the process easier for SMEs.

  1. How effective are the most recent procurement regulations in levelling the playing field for SMEs?

Greater access for SMEs to public contracts was one of the policy aims sitting behind the 2014 EU Directive on Public Procurement, which has now been implemented into national legislation. The CBI’s second report on Procurement Reform (published before the latest round of legislative changes) stated that half of UK Central Government’s £40bn spend was placed with just 39 suppliers, so it is not surprising that this issue received the attention of legislatures. The main barriers to SME involvement have traditionally been seen as a lack of transparency, complexity of procurement process and the size of advertised contracts.

So, how much progress has been made since the latest round of legislative changes came into force?  Before considering the effectiveness of those changes, it is useful to remind ourselves of what they were:-

  • Under the new Regulations, Contracting Authorities now have to actively consider splitting larger contracts (those above the EU threshold) into smaller lots and have to justify their decisions if they choose not to do so. It is also open to Contracting Authorities to limit the number of lots that a single contractor can be appointed to, provided they do so in an objective and non-discriminatory way.
  • Contracting Authorities have to evaluate bids based on the tenderer’s “capacity and ability” to perform the contract, which means that excessive requirements, not linked to the type or value of the contract, are not permissible. In particular:-
    • minimum turnover requirements for bidder qualification cannot be more than twice the contract value, unless there is a justifiable reason for doing so. The previous thinking on this was for 3 times the contract value, so there has been a reduction there in favour of SMEs.
    • minimum PI levels required for bidder qualification need to be objectively justifiable based on the type and value of the contract.
  • The new Regulations introduced the amended qualification process, which brought in the standardised European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) and the ability for bidders to self-certify the information provided. Now only the winning bidder is required to provide the documentation supporting their statements in the ESPD. The European Commission estimated that the change in the qualification procedure would reduce the administrative burden on companies by over 80%.  Scotland has introduced the new Scottish ESPD but it has not yet been implemented in any meaningful way in England, NI or Wales.
  • More generally there has been a drive to further improve transparency through better record keeping and auditing of procurement processes.

As we have only been working with the new regime for a short while, Contracting Authorities, as well as bidders, are still very much in the learning process and there will, inevitably be a period of time before full compliance is achieved across the sector.  The European Commission is focussing on buyer training as a means to ensure compliance.

Some of the changes are more easily implemented than others.  Contracting Authorities had already been working with guidance on minimum turnover and PI requirements and the new Regulations are more of a codification of existing rules than a step change in that regard.

Other changes may take a little longer to be fully embedded.  A quick review of the tender portals will, for example, show that bidders are not always given reasons for a contract not being split into lots, or if they are, the reasons are not particularly specific.  It is also rare to see a limit being placed on the number of lots that a single contractor can be awarded.  The reason for this could be that there is a perceived conflict in being able to demonstrate best value whilst at the same time splitting a contract so as to lose the economy of scale, or saying that a certain lot has not been awarded to the bidder who submitted the most economically advantageous tender because of a cap on the number of lots that it can be awarded.

There is little doubt, however, that the standardised approach to the qualification process through the ESPD is starting to reap benefits for bidders, from both a time and a cost perspective.  This is likely to be the biggest win for SMEs from the most recent changes in legislation.


2. Is there anything more that can be done in a regulatory way to enhance the opportunity for SMEs to engage in public procurements?

It is likely that legislatures would want to give Contracting Authorities a period of time to adjust to the new Regulations, before making further changes.  That said, the EU Commission is keen to make sure that buyers fully understand the new rules and use them in a way to create innovation in the economy, which can be done through greater use of SMEs.  The EU Commission published a consultation on “Guidance on Public Procurement of Innovation” seeking to help buyers feel more confident in specifying more innovative ways of delivering contracts, without fear of challenge.  The consultation closes this month (January) and we can expect published Guidance to follow on from that.

At the moment Contracting Authorities are being “encouraged” to design their procurement processes with SMEs in mind, but they are afforded a fairly wide discretion in how they do that.  Based on their current powers under the EU Directive, there are additional measures that Member States already have in their kit bag, should they feel that the current regime is not achieving the policy aim of increasing SME involvement.

As an example, the Directive allows Member States some discretion on the implementation of the lotting rule, so that Government could at some point make it mandatory that contracts of a certain size or type be split.  Government could also choose to extend these current rules so as to apply to lower value contracts, through separate national legislation.

Speed of payment in the supply chain has also raised concerns for SMEs, especially in the construction industry.  The Directive makes clear that Member States should be free to provide mechanisms for direct payments to be made to sub-contractors (who are more likely to be SMEs).  As an example of how this can be achieved, the Scottish Government has now instructed all Scottish organisations covered by the Public Finance Manual to use Project Bank Accounts in high value construction contracts to allow direct payments to sub-contractors.  If this proves to be successful then we may see a further roll out to other industries or to lower value contracts, but this would have to be weighed against the cost of administration.  There is also statutory in guidance in England & Wales about prompt payment of undisputed invoices within 30 days, with a stated aim of paying 80% of invoices within 5 working days.

The Scottish Government has also introduced the Scottish ESPD as well as standardised statements for use alongside the ESPD which Contracting Authorities must use for routine requirements in the qualification process.  This further standardises the process for bidders and will ensure that the policy aims of making the ESPD a reusable document are better achieved.  It may be that this is something considered by other jurisdictions.

We do have to recognise that any attempt to legislate in favour of a certain groups of providers such as SMEs, almost by definition, prejudices other providers in the sector.  Government therefore has to use its powers with caution so as not to make the process anti-competitive, when the aim of the game is to run an open, transparent and fair process for all.  That said, the measures that have been introduced do help to at least make sure that SMEs are given a fair opportunity to compete in the first place.

Public Procurement thresholds 2018/2019 – updated

New Public Procurement thresholds 2018/2019

New Public Procurement thresholds 2018/2019

2020/2021 Public Procurement Thresholds Update Available here *

Public Procurement thresholds 2018/2019 – updated

With the ongoing uncertainty over whether or not Brexit negotiations will result in an agreement, changes to public procurement remain a distinct possibility (see our blog on the UK Government’s contingency for e-procurement in the event of a “no-deal” scenario).

Despite this, it is important to remember that the regulatory framework for public contracts will remain in place in the UK for the foreseeable future regardless of the outcome. EU Public Contract Regulations were passed into UK law in 2015 and will remain in place unless or until they are repealed and replaced.

Considering the time frames involved in formulating and ratifying new legislation, the thresholds detailed below will almost certainly remain in effect until the end of 2019 regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.

When procuring goods or services over the financial threshold a public authority must do so under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015. These regulations transposed the European public contracts directive (2014/24/EU) into national law.

The main point of interest from our readers’ perspectives is that buying organisations must advertise any requirement over the new thresholds in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), rather than just advertising it nationally. The calculation of the estimated value of a procurement shall be based on the total amount payable, net of VAT, as estimated by the contracting authority, including any form of option and any renewals of the contracts as explicitly set out in the procurement documents.

Between the 2016/2017 thresholds and the 2017/2018 thresholds we have seen a small increase in the thresholds in both Pounds Sterling and Euros. Due to the relatively small increase it is unlikely that buyers or suppliers will notice much change in the size of contracts advertised at European level.


Public Contracts

Supply, Services[1] and Design Contracts
Works Contracts[2]
Social and other specific services[3]
Central Government[4]






Other Contracting Authorities






Small Lots




[1] With the exception of the following services which have different thresholds or are exempt:
– Social and other specific services (subject to the light touch regime) Article 74.
– Subsidised services contracts specified under Article 13.
– Research and development services under Article 14 (specified CPV codes are exempt).
[2] With the exception of subsidised works contracts specified under Article 13.
[3] As per Article 74. Services are listed in Annex XIV.
[4] Schedule 1 of the Public Contracts Regulations lists the Central Government Bodies subject to the WTO GPA. These    thresholds will also apply to any successor bodies.


Social and other specific services are subject to the ‘light touch regime’ as described in a previous blog.


Utility Contracts

Supply, Services and Design Contracts Works Contracts Social and other specific services
Utility Authorities £363,424






Defence and Security Contracts

Supply, Services and Design Contracts Works Contracts Social and other specific services
Defence and Security authorities









Concession Contracts

For the first time Concession Contracts are covered in EU Law under a separate directive and therefore separate regulations in the UK.

The EU Directive is found here:

The UK regulations here:

The UK Directive outlines how the value of a concession contract should be calculated:

The thresholds for publication in the OJEU refers to Article 8 (1) of the EU Directive which is:

  1. This Directive shall apply to concessions the value of which is equal to or greater than EUR 5 548 000.

The Sterling equivalent is £4,551,413

Calculating Estimated Value

The calculation of the estimated value of a procurement exercise shall be based on the total amount payable, net of VAT, as estimated by the contracting authority, including any form of option and any renewals of the contracts as explicitly set out in the procurement documents.

Contracts Subsidised by Public Funds

All applicable contracts which are subsidised by 50% or more of public funds must be advertised in the OJEU. From time to time a public body may part fund a project and request that the recipient of funding must advertise the procurement in line with public contracts regulations even if their contribution is less than 50% of the overall value. As such any recipient of public funding on a project should verify with the funding body what is expected of them in procuring for the project.

What are Small Lots?

Read our blog about small lots.

How do I Know if a Contract is Classed as Works?

Many contractual requirements are a mixture of works and services. Whichever element is the highest in value should be taken as the contract nature when determining what threshold to apply. If you are unsure whether a specific element is classed as works or services then you can refer to Schedule 2 of the regulations which lists all activities which constitute works by CPV code:

If the CPV code which fits your requirement is not in that list then it is not classed as a Works contract.


Tenders Direct can alert you to suitable public contracts as soon as they’re published. Visit our website or call us on 0800 222 9009 to learn more.


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