Public Contracts Roundup

Contracts Roundup

What’s new and noteworthy over the last couple of weeks in the exciting world of public procurement?

Simply the best

There’s some pleasing news for the UK civil service in a new report from Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. The International Civil Service Effectiveness Index ranks countries based on a variety of functions such as policymaking, financial management and transparency.

Out of the 38 countries included in the rankings the UK has taken the top spot overall, with New Zealand, Canada, Finland, and Australia completing the top 5. The UK came out on top in the policymaking as well as financial and HR management categories and third in terms of procurement effectiveness after New Zealand and Denmark.

Procurement as a standalone indicator was introduced in this year’s survey and New Zealand scored highest in the category primarily due to e-procurement effectiveness and SME access to public contracts. One area where the UK didn’t do so well was in the digital services category, ranking in the bottom third. Read more from Civil Service World.

Rough seas

Some bad news for the public purse – and ammunition for critics of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – as the infamous Brexit ferry saga took another unfortunate twist.

Following the cancellation of the contract signed with Seaborne Freight, the remaining contracts with Brittany Ferries and DFDS have been terminated at an expected cost of over £50 million now that the threat of a no-deal Brexit has receded.

This comes after the government paid out £33 million to Eurotunnel following a challenge to the procurement process. Now shipping giant P&O is taking legal action over this payment, arguing that it constitutes illegal state aid and gives their competitor an unfair advantage.

Mr Grayling insisted that these contracts were a necessary insurance policy and highlighted that they were only a small fraction of overall no-deal Brexit preparations. Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald was a little less relaxed about it, saying “Chris Grayling and the ferry contracts will for evermore be a case study in Ministerial incompetence”.

Chinese whispers

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been fired by Theresa May for allegedly being the source of a leak about the involvement of the Chinese telecoms provider Huawei in the development of the UK’s 5G mobile network. Following a showdown in the Prime Minister’s office Mr Williamson protested his innocence and likened his sacking to a “kangaroo court”.

The concerns over Huawei relate to its’s ties with the Chinese government and the possibility that new network infrastructure could be exploited for the purposes of espionage or cyberwarfare.

Many in the defence and intelligence community have warned of the risks and the potential damage to the intelligence-sharing agreement between the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand known as the “Five Eyes”.

The development of 5G is an international effort driven by a mix of direct public funding, private investment, and Public Private Partnerships. The level of opportunity for ICT businesses over the next few years will be huge, whether it be formal contract work or access to targeted funding opportunities such as this current competition.

Top tenders

The months following the turn of the financial year are always the busiest for public sector purchasing as new budgets come into play and annual plans are implemented. Some notable recent notices:

Framework Agreement from NHS Shared Business Services worth £100 million for design services, furniture and appliances

Dynamic Purchasing System from Bolton Council worth over £1million for a variety of event supplies and services

Prior Information Notice from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime worth £1.7 million for services to support young victims of violent crime in London’s A&Es.

 Thoughts or questions? Leave a comment!

The engine room of Tenders Direct


Meet our Review Team: (from left to right) Carol Davidson, Kirsty Macdonald-Ross, Ewan MacAskill and Cameron Masson.

They provide something truly unique in our market: they read, analyse and categorise every english-language contract published in the Official Journal of the European Union as well as every below-threshold notice from across the UK and Ireland.

Their efforts serve to simplify the convoluted public sector marketplace, giving suppliers fast and easy access to suitable contracts and peace of mind that opportunities won’t pass them by.

Why do our keyword categories and review process matter?


“We use our own unique category system to classify every tender that we send to our customers. This provides a greater level of accuracy than the standard CPV codes. It is the review team’s responsibility to apply the most appropriate categories to each tender.

“We do this for two main reasons: Firstly, to reduce the amount of tenders customers might receive that are not relevant to their business. More importantly, to ensure that customers do not miss out on potential tender opportunities.”


“Our bespoke category system and review process are the backbone of our service – they differentiate us from our competitors who use CPV codes and individual keywords.

“So for every notice that we read and review each day, we know that we’re providing the best possible service for our customers by helping them to quickly find what they need without wading through irrelevant information.”


“We review hundreds of tenders each day, saving time and money for customers who may spend hours every week trawling through lists of tender notices that are not relevant to their business.

“We’re always looking for ways to stay up to date with advancements in technology and sector terminology. We continuously update our category system to ensure it stays relevant to today’s market and generates accurate alerts for our customer base.”


“Between us we read through hundreds of notices each day to make sure they are correctly categorised – this is a time-consuming and difficult task but thousands of companies appreciate what we do!

“Many of the contracts we see have unusual or vague descriptions. It is vital that we investigate these further to understand exactly what the contracts entail so our customers don’t miss opportunities.”

Queries? Leave a comment or find out more about our solutions for suppliers here.


What skills do you need in your bid team?

bid team

Whether you’re a solo bid writer or part of a broader business development team, there are many skills required to secure the award of a contract and bid writing ability itself is just one of them. So, if you’re building a team or developing your own skillset, what other key capabilities are required?

Project management

With a limited window of opportunity between publication and deadline staying on schedule is paramount: even if you’ve seen the contract coming and have a bank of bid documentation ready, copy and paste jobs won’t cut it and rogue questions may force you to gather last minute information.

You need a standard but adaptable project plan where the deadline for submission is only one of several key milestones. Completing documents that require the input of multiple employees can easily become a quagmire of out-of-offices and a burden on people’s time, so the ability to plan your timings back from the deadline and build in tolerances for administrative delays is crucial.

Even if you work well under pressure, you need to avoid sitting in the office all evening like a student binge-writing their dissertation the night before the due date – quality will suffer and consequently so will your score and chances of success.

Business development

Identifying new markets and partnerships and the process of generating, nurturing and converting leads is somewhat different when your selling to the public rather than private sector, but the fundamentals remain the same.

The most switched-on bid teams think several moves ahead and lay the groundwork for future bids by conducting early and account management-style engagement with buyers in order to gain intelligence on the timing and nature of planned procurements and gain breathing space to prepare.

Any experience or ability in building B2B sales pipelines is perfect for implementing this kind of bid strategy. Most businesses already have these skills in-house – could there be a cross-team synergy? For small teams or individual bid writers in particular, a strategic and selective approach is likely to bear more fruit and be less burdensome than constantly committing to speculative bids.

Technical authoring

Novelists aren’t required, but clear and concise communicators are. This is not to say there’s no room for a bit of flair in your bid writing, but there’s a fine balance to achieve between efficiently stating your capabilities and making your submission stand out. Engaging with specialist consultants can help you find the right mix of substance and style for the public sector market.

Aside from a technical focus, a keen eye is necessary when creating and editing complex documents: losing focus on the question is all too easy and an otherwise excellent bid can crash and burn due to small, avoidable errors.

Don’t throw away many hours of work just because you couldn’t bear to read through your documents one final time!

Marketing savvy

Much like the distinction between bids and bestsellers, tender documents may not be brochures but a sprinkling of marketing magic always stands you in good stead.

While you’re not scored on how eye catching or smooth your content is, readability is important and the best bid writers will intersperse a submission with evidence of their unique suitability such as awards and certificates where appropriate.

The challenge is to answer the questions directly and comprehensively while also standing out from the crowd. Procurement teams are human too – with the right approach and enough care your bid can be the one out of a stack of ten that catches their eye.

Looking for some expert tendering advice? Explore our consultancy services.

Is your bid strategy working?

Bid Strategy

The key to a successful long term bid strategy is two-fold: identifying ambitious long term objectives and consistently working towards them, while also retaining the flexibility and freedom to exploit openings in the market.

What happens when an organisation doesn’t have a long term strategy? Well, it drifts. It doesn’t move from point A to point B in a planned and orderly fashion. Instead, it flails around at the mercy of the market and is constantly reacting to new opportunities as they appear.

Not everything can be planned out in detail years in advance, but there are certain principles that suppliers can stick to in order to create a stable flow of new business in the long term: think before you act, plan ahead, prepare thoroughly, but be ready to react quickly to events and change course if necessary.

Early engagement

Without the ability to think several moves ahead you’ll forever be condemned to running around breathlessly trying to meet deadlines. Bids formulated entirely within a short timeframe will be lacking the care, attention to detail, and resultant quality that it is necessary to prevail in the crowded marketplace that is the public sector.

By keeping your ear to the ground and actively engaging with buyers – and thereby gaining intelligence about their procurement strategies and schedules – you can spot contracts coming and literally add months to the window of opportunity rather than racing around and throwing together a sub-standard submission.

Go / no go assessment

Don’t mistake the go / no go assessment as an exercise in determining whether or not you stand a chance of success. The key question is: do you want to bid for this?

Many companies testing the waters of public sector tendering for the first time make a big mistake: they dive in too fast. They embark on a frenzy of bidding once they’ve achieved basic eligibility only to become disillusioned in the absence of success.

It’s not just newbies that make this error; even seasoned suppliers can be tempted into pursuing opportunities without considering the long term consequences. All too often businesses of all sizes are tempted to bite off more than they can chew when faced with a particularly tasty tender and the prospect of fat profit margins.

A manageable pipeline

The problem is – and this applies to all but the most titanic operators – committing to a sizeable contract today may limit your freedom of action in the coming years by using up your capacity. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes.

Avoiding huge bids in favour of widening your focus and spreading your efforts more evenly across multiple smaller projects can often be a more profitable, stable, and flexible approach. Below threshold contracts – often eclipsed by more lucrative prospects and ignored by larger operators – can offer the best route to a varied portfolio and steady growth.

With some effective early engagement and go / no go assessment processes in place, you can build a pipeline of winnable contracts while remaining nimble and capable of capitalising on unexpected opportunities.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below or call 0800 222 9009 with any questions.

Is your sales message tailored for tendering?

Sales messages

The award of public contracts may be more about costing and capability than your talent for delivering an inspiring pitch, but your sales message matters and can give you an edge – not least when you’re in a crowded competition. So how can you properly apply sales tactics in tendering?

Adapting to the well-defined and stringent scoring criteria of public sector tendering can be tricky if you’ve become used to making sales by targeting the heart as much as the head. The key is finding the right balance between polished pitch and technical prowess and finding ways to weave a compelling message into your responses.

Tell your story

Like any other business deal, you’re selling your wares to a customer so it would be surprising if you didn’t apply some smooth techniques. Your priority should always be to answer the buyer’s questions directly, clearly, and concisely, but try to embed a narrative in your responses.

An overall theme to focus on is your company’s story. What was your origin? Where are you now? What’s your future direction? Buyers aren’t judging you on current capabilities alone, but also on your past record and your ambitions for the future. You can illustrate your suitability by providing evidence of past service provision, current capability, and future plans with a range of visual tools such as case studies, certifications, awards, flow charts and so on.

Where you’re going is particularly relevant, as many contract lifecycles can be up to half a decade and beyond. Will your solutions have changed a few years down the line? Will you have implemented new technology, processes, or supply chain improvements that can provide additional cost savings and added value? If you emphasise your commitment to continuous improvement and the pursuit of efficiency, you’ll be more attractive to public sector buyers facing long term budgetary pressures.

Close the sale

Assuming you’ve formulated a competitive costing proposal and covered the other key elements of the scoring criteria as best you can, a tight competition can come down to a judgement on the part of the evaluators regarding the overall quality of your bid.

When you’re chasing a deal face-to-face or on the phone, closing the sale can come down to an emotional reaction, a turn of phrase, a personal connection, a snap decision. Leads usually become customers not because you’ve feature-bashed your offering, but because you’ve persuaded them that you’re different or proven that you’re the best.

Evaluators are often forced to choose between two or more technically similar bids. You may have demonstrated your willingness and ability to take on the contract in your responses, but have you differentiated yourself from the crowd? Just as you want your story to come across in your bid, your responses should, where possible, convey the unique benefits of working with you relative to the competition. If it comes down to the wire you won’t be in the room to make a last ditch pitch, but if you’ve already told an inspirational tale your bid will do the talking for you.

Reached a plateau in your bid writing and interested in developing your ability? You may be interested in our Advanced Bid Writing Skills training course.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below or call 0800 222 9009 with any questions.

SMEs need to see obstacles as opportunities


SMEs face many challenges when trying to break into public sector contracting but shouldn’t let difficulties dissuade them: a sustainable pipeline of public sector work can be the key to prosperity in the long term. So how do you overcome the initial obstacles?

View pre-qualification as a boost, not a burden

With so many benchmarks to meet and standards to satisfy, becoming eligible to bid can be a major challenge in itself. Try to see it as a chance to ready your team for the pressures of sustained tendering and to prepare your business for growth.

Creating a bid library containing everything from evidence of financial stability and insurance cover to business continuity plans and sustainability standards isn’t a walk in the park, and if you find yourself having to acquire certain industry or commonly required certifications – an ISO management system, for example – you’ll need input from all sections of your company.

Take the opportunity to improve internal processes, promote company-wide cooperation and develop your team’s skills. Upskilling and cross-training – particularly in the creation and maintenance of complex technical documentation as well as project management and coordination – will help you build a high performance bid team and enhance your business more generally.

Exploit the dominance of larger competitors

When you’ve attained a basic level of eligibility, the next challenge is to select your targets and hold your own in a crowded marketplace. Above threshold contracts – those published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) – will rarely be suitable, as their scope can be too extensive or qualification requirements too stringent. Crucially, you’re almost guaranteed to be up against the biggest players in your industry.

Instead, seek out below threshold contracts that are not subject to the OJEU process. They may be less lucrative than OJEU opportunities, but are more accessible to SMEs and larger operators will often ignore them if they don’t deem the opportunity to be suitably profitable relative to their size.

By exploiting these openings in your competitors’ coverage, you’ll be able to shine without being overshadowed and consequently increase your chances. While a below threshold win may not fill your order book, it gives you the crucial advantage of applicable experience when you commit to winning a large contract.

Take advantage of your size through collaboration

Realism is critical but don’t limit your ambition – there are ways to punch above your weight. A contract partially suited to you but out of reach due to its size or scope isn’t necessarily a lost cause; it could actually turn out to be your big break if you take the right approach.

Buyers who bundle a spectrum of services into individual contracts will usually be open to joint bids from multiple suppliers. Forming a consortium can be doubly beneficial: it positions you to grab a slice of a project that would otherwise be beyond your means, and provides an opportunity to foster long term partnerships with other operators who can enhance or complement your capabilities.

The right mix of partners can minimise overheads and facilitate superior costing proposals. More generally, forming temporary or lasting alliances with other suppliers can help to boost your private sector lead generation efforts in parallel with your tendering activities.

If you’re trying to secure public sector business for the first time you can access our free library of tendering guides and resources here. For more substantial support, our Getting to the ITT training course blends the methodology of tendering with practical exercises. 

As always, feel free to leave a comment below or call 0800 222 9009 with any questions.

End of Year Update

End of year update

It’s been an interesting year for Tenders Direct and the procurement world in general, so we thought we’d review the events of the last twelve months and look ahead to 2019…

Developments in public procurement

2018 began with a modest increase in the value of the financial thresholds that determine which public contracts must be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. We’ll provide an update in January when these are revised for 2019/20. View the current thresholds.

In January major government contractor Carillion went into liquidation. The fallout from the construction firm’s collapse continues to be felt by its private sector partners and a large number of public sector buyers, with the ensuing disruption to supply chains and the additional costs incurred again bringing the issues of value for money and supplier risk management to the fore.

On a happier note, it’s been another year of progress for the public sector in terms of maximising value to their stakeholders via social value requirements. Interest in the topic among both buyers and suppliers has never been higher, and its increasingly widespread implementation in contracts across different sectors is encouraging. Access the recording of our free Social Value in Tenders webinar.

The recent budget saw the official end of Private Finance Initiatives (PFI). The government signaled that it remains sympathetic to the overall concept of Public Private Partnerships (PPP), but concluded that the PFI model has been a failure. Some substantial spending increases – most notable for health and infrastructure – will bolster the flow of public contract opportunities across various service and product areas in the coming years. Read our Budget Update.

Brexit has continued to dominate the national agenda throughout the year and will inevitably remain all-consuming well into 2019. As we noted previously, the UK government has a contingency in place for e-procurement should no deal be finalised. At the time of writing, however, we have plenty of political drama but very little certainty. Attend our free Tendering and Brexit webinar in January.

New and noteworthy at Tenders Direct

We’ve been working hard throughout the year to give our customers as much assistance as possible in their tendering activities, and we’re looking forward to pushing ahead with new developments throughout 2019. Some highlights from the last 12 months included:

Opportunity Manager – A new bid administration tool as standard for all our subscribers designed to help track and manage bids in a customisable pipeline.

Advance Tender Alerts – We upgraded our business development tool to help our subscribers share and manage future prospects more easily. Learn more

Training and Consultancy After another great year of supporting suppliers of all descriptions with full day training courses, tailored consultancy and free webinars, we already have a packed schedule confirmed for 2019.

Our festive opening hours are 9am – 5pm Monday – Friday except:

24th December: 9am – 1pm

25th / 26th December – Closed

31st December – 9am – 1pm

1st January – Closed

 Questions? Leave a comment, chat with us @ or call 0800 222 9009.

Taking the initiative in the public sector

Business Devel

Suppliers are increasingly shifting away from reactive tendering and instead applying business development processes as part of a longer term bid strategy. Why is this the case and how can your company follow suit?

The award of public contracts is based on stringent criteria with well-defined metrics that prioritise value for money. In tendering competitions, the art of persuasion can only be enacted by suppliers if they know and understand their potential customers.

While you can’t win a public contract based purely on an effective sales pitch or by arranging a meeting with a potential buyer, there is no impediment to suppliers proactively engaging with buyers prior to the tender competition starting with a view to raising awareness of their services and laying the groundwork to influence future bids.

Are buyers receptive to being approached by suppliers?

Market awareness is as important to public sector buyers as it is for any other decision maker with a limited budget, and can be a critical factor in shaping procurements.

Knowledge of available solutions allows procurement teams to draft well-informed invitations to tender that reflect market reality, and this is precisely why many buyers conduct supplier engagement exercises ahead of procurements via Prior Information Notices and meet the buyer events.

I want to begin tendering proactively. Where do I start?

At Tenders Direct we encounter many suppliers who bid reactively and blindly without having had any previous contact with buyers. This “firefighting” approach can leave you on the back foot, put pressure on time and resources, and ultimately prevent you from maximising your chances of success.

The acquisition of market intelligence and the formulation of a long term bid strategy are key. Cultivating relationships with buyers lets you gain an insight into their specific needs and preferences, making it more likely that you can create a customised bid that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Identifying opportunities ahead of time including renewals of existing contracts can allow you to create a pipeline of prospects, conduct go/no go assessments, and begin pre-engagement efforts and bid preparations long before a tender is even published.

Access a free recording of our Business Development for Tenders webinar for an in-depth discussion of how to take the initiative in your tendering activities, including how our Advance Tender Alerts tool can help.

Autumn Budget Update

Autumn Budget Update

As he delivered the Autumn Budget yesterday Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond joked that the decision to address Parliament on a Monday – rather than the traditional Wednesday – was an attempt to avoid Halloween-related headlines.

It didn’t work, as many observers are today pointing out that Hammond is handing out a lot of treats and some are suspicious that this is some kind of trick intended to gain the good will of voters ahead of a rumoured general election.

Hammond had to find funding to make good on an earlier pledge of an extra £20 billion per year to the NHS by 2023 and also ensure that funds are allocated to cover any additional costs associated with the Brexit process. He ticked these boxes and had a few other surprises in store.

Key announcements included:

  • Additional £20 billion over five years for the NHS including £2bn per year for mental health
  • A £30bn investment package for roads in England
  • Extra £1 billion for Defence with a focus on cyber warfare
  • Extra £500m to fund an additional 650,000 homes
  • Additional £500 million for Brexit-related costs
  • No further Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts to be signed
  • The National Living Wage to increase by 4.9% to £8.21 per hour as of April 2019.
  • Apprenticeship levy for smaller companies reduced by 50%

What impact will this have on public procurement?

Such substantial spending increases in health, infrastructure and defence will inevitably result in more contract opportunities for suppliers in certain subsectors over the coming years, but perhaps the most notable news is the abolition of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) procurement model.

The demise of PFI marks a shift in national procurement strategy and will be welcomed by many due to the failure to deliver savings to the taxpayer as intended. Indeed, a National Audit Office report published in January this year found that taxpayers will be liable for almost £200 billion in payments to PFI contractors over the next 25 years.

Hammond made it clear that the government remains committed to the overall concept of Public Private Partnership (PPP) if it “delivers value to the taxpayer and shifts risk” to the private sector, but stated that “there is compelling evidence that PFI does neither”.

We’d like to hear your views about the budget – tell us what you think in the comments below.

Expanded webinar schedule


We’re pleased to announce dates over the coming months for a new selection of free webinars:

Getting to the ITT – Tuesday 30 October

Writing Compelling Bids – Thursday 6th December

Advanced Bid Writing Skills – Thursday 7th February

If you’ve ever wanted to attend our full day training courses but are unsure of the content and what skills and knowledge you will come away with, you can now attend condensed overviews of our most popular courses online.

Business Development for Tenders – Friday 9 November

We’ll discuss the advantages of pre-engagement with public sector buyers and demonstrating how our Advance Tender Alerts service can help suppliers escape from the rut of reactive tendering in our new Business Development for Tenders webinar.

Tendering and Brexit – Wednesday 23 January

We’ll also be keeping you informed about the impact of Brexit as the endgame takes shape, focusing on how it will affect public sector tendering and what steps suppliers should be taking to prepare. As well as these webinars, we’ll of course be sharing our analysis on the Tenders Direct blog as and when we have some level of clarity on the outcome of negotiations.

To find out more about all the webinars available and to book your space, visit:


Questions? Leave a comment, chat with us at or call 0800 222 9009

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